If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that Veronica Mars (2004) fans are some of the most loyal and patient people on the planet. After three stellar seasons, spanning 2004 to 2006, Marshmallows were forced to not only wait an excruciating eight years before the next snippet of their snarky protagonist landed on screens (via the Veronica Mars (2014) movie), but they even ended up having to fund it themselves. Then, just as it looked like everyone's favourite P.I. might hang up her long-lens for good, there came news that Hulu was looking to bring her back for a fourth season. Cheers erupted, fists were punched into the air and all finally seemed right with the world. That was, until the rebooted *edgier* episodes dropped this weekend and sent everyone spinning. Not because we'd received such a glorious gift a week earlier than expected. But because the more episodes you watched, the harder it was to deny that we'd been given a trash-fire, soul-sucking season, constructed with the sole purpose of destroying the sophisticated, stylish, smart and stereotype-bending show we had all come to know and love. And if you have any doubts about that statement, simply check out the supporting receipts below.
Part of what made the original run of Veronica Mars (2004) so damn good, was the whip-smart dialogue and perfectly planned cases our titular teen hero found herself embroiled in. I mean, that bomb-on-the-bus storyline that tied heartbreakingly into Veronica's own rape was a work of pure genius. The twists and turns were as well-crafted as they were impossible to spot. And the running jokes of the father-daughter relationship were honestly the heart of the series. But come 2019, while there were still plenty of the series' classic sarcasm-induced spiels, just as many quips seemed to fall particularly flat (point-in-case the whole 'cussing' gag, which would've been great had there been a pay-off where swearing actually happened). Similarly, there were many, many points where the writers just seemed to forget major plot elements from the show's past. Like Logan and Leo knowing one another. The latter sold the original Lily Kane tapes to the former back in series one and was also the person to arrest him following his brawl on the bridge back in season two. So why do they act like they were just meeting for the first time at V's apartment? Then there's the fact that Veronica has like zero friends this time around. Weevil is in the bad books for taking some sort of a deal we never get the full picture on, Wallace is off being married and appears for like two seconds, Mac is mentioned once (she's in Istanbul for some vague reason), and the only person Veronica seems to have any sort of gal-pal relationship with, Nicole, is brought in almost exclusively to end up disappearing into the night (I mean, did we ever get a real answer as to why she sold her company to Dick just days after saying she hated the NUTT's?) And what about the slow, emotional build of Keith forgetting things, only for that to PSYCH be the medication he was on. So many let downs. So few episodes to fuck it up in. And yet, here we are.
Speaking of great writing, whatever happened to those pay-offs of old? The ones where you never saw the killer coming until the final act and there was a jaw-dropping moment where all the clues and motives just fell into place? Well, I for one don't know, because it sure as shit wasn't present here. The villain was... the Pizza guy? The one who turned out to be a copy-cat bomber, who just hated spring break after a bunch of kids once tried to drown him? So why exactly did it take him three years to exact his revenge then? And when he did, why was it on a whole bunch of randoms rather than the original perpetrators? Or was it because he wanted the notoriety that came from the many media appearances and memoirs he would publish, which is a concept that is about as original as peanut butter on bread. Even stranger is the contingencies for his contingencies he made such a big deal about. Because aside from the bomb left in Veronica's car absolutely nothing more was said on the fact. A bomb that was clearly alluded to multiple times throughout the episode, and lead the writers to play down Veronica's smarts just so they could kill Logan off. So yes, I will never not be over how stupid this storyline was.
Speaking of stupid, I am calling it right now. #JusticeForLogan. There's a lot to complain about with this season, but above all is the fact that after having his father sleep with - and then murder - his girlfriend, being put on trial twice for killings he didn't commit, healthily working out his anger and trust issues, joining the navy and becoming a decorated intelligence officer and FINALLY finding happiness with his true love, Logan Echolls was just callously killed off. Like WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK. We get this is the real world and everything isn't always rainbows and unicorns. But that man deserved better than the tacky, half-arsed, rushed attempt at drama the creators wanted to imbue from him being literally ripped away from Veronica. And while there is the potential that this wasn't a true death (the old no body = no death rule), bringing him back after this would be just as underwhelming. Veronica has clearly moved on, is sans wedding ring, and is now more damaged than ever. It's no wonder really that Jason Dohring relatively disinterested throughout this season. I would too if I'd read the finale and realised they did my character dirty like that.
We get it, Veronica has to go through a lot of shit to make her a great detective. We've seen it a million times in the 'are they / aren't they' relationship of her and Logan, the constant desire she has to return to a job that clearly damages her psyche, and her blatant trust issues. But this season makes it very hard to agree with actress Kristen Bell, when she claims she returned to the show to provide a strong, female character for her kids to look up to. While past seasons have shown Veronica going through hell only to emerge victorious (For example; Veronica deciding she should embrace becoming a P.I. because that's what she wants for herself, rather than sticking with everyone else's opinions on what she should be doing with her life), this time around there is very little growth to be seen. Veronica drinks excessively, does drugs, rails on her boyfriend for trying to become a better person, and almost cheats. How exactly is it 'empowering' for women to basically claim their gender can't be strong if they are in a healthy relationship?
Basically, as the theme song goes: "A long time ago, we used to be friends. But I haven't thought of you lately at all". Only time will tell whether this latest run will be the proverbial nail in the coffin for the show, or whether fans are eager enough to see Hulu renew a new Logan-less series. My money is on the former, judging by the variable shitstorm that is Twitter at the moment. Boy am I glad I am not Rob Thomas right about now.
WARNING ***SPOILERS*** ABOUND
Being the culmination of more than a decade of blood, sweat and, at times, quite literal tears, there was never any doubt Avengers: Endgame (2019) would deliver a bucket load of satisfying scenes for fans of the MCU. From Tony pulling off the ultimate bait-and-switch, to Black Widow proving she was always a leader among men, the film appeared to leave no stone unturned in its desire to fulfil each character’s story arc. But one moment in particular seemed to stand above the rest – as Steve Rogers finally – and fittingly – smashed the smile off Thanos’ face with the mighty Mjolnir. Not only did it answer the question of whether Captain America was indeed worthy or not, but it elicited squeals of cheers from audience members around the world. But for all the glory it brought, there was still the lingering question of how the hell he did it. And there might just be a deeper meaning behind such a perfectly prepared pay-off. So strap in for some theorising people. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
‘WHOSOEVER HOLDS THIS HAMMER, IF HE BE WORTHY, SHALL POSSESS THE POWER OF THOR’
Now, there’s no more obvious a point to start than with the hammer itself. First appearing in Thor (2011), we come to learn over the course of the MCU films that the mythical weapon was forged by dwarves using a special metal mined from the heart of a dying star, and that it can only be used by a person that is deemed ‘worthy’. As the series develops, we discover plenty of people who can’t handle it, including Loki (whose head is almost smashed in by it while pretending to be the Allfather), Hulk (who tried to lift in while fighting Thor on the helicarrier) and Quicksilver (who was dragged for a while after grabbing onto it mid-flight). Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), however gave us our biggest glimpse into its power, as even the rag-tag gang of Iron Man, War Machine, Hawkeye, Bruce Banner, Captain America and Black Widow, were unable to wield it. Although Steve was able to nudge it upwards, ever so slightly. But more on that later.
SO, WHO CAN ACTUALLY PICK THE THING UP?
Well, we know that both Kings of Asgard – Thor and his father Odin – can wield Mjolnir. And thanks to Thor: Ragnarok (2017), the goddess of death, Hela, can destroy it. But then there’s Vision, who after being created from the minds of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, along with the logistics of Jarvis and Ultron, is able to use the hammer in one of the Avenger’s biggest fights. His ability to utilise the weapon gives him credibility to Thor, who states it is his biggest reason for letting the mind stone reside with the android.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH STEVE?
As the only member of the original Avengers to wind up holding the hammer (and the only non-magically or mythically enhanced one overall), Steve’s wielding of Mjolnir in Avengers: Endgame (2019) is a big deal. So much so, one could argue that there has to be more to it than a few simply ‘call-backs’ to previous films. So, how exactly did he do it then? Rogers has always been the hero who stood up for the little guy. He has impeccable virtues and a strong desire to bring bad guys to justice. I mean he wears the American flag all over him for Christ sake. It seems like he should be ‘innately’ worthy right? But for all his bravado and sacrifice, he isn’t perfect. So the real question is what could take that much of a toll on his soul and spirit that he could be considered dishonourable or untrustworthy? Well, we think the key to this lies in what changed between the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).
Back in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Steve was able to shift the hammer, almost imperceptibly, during his attempt to lift it. We know this is an important moment, judging by the way Thor seemed to have a heart-attack over it. But what exactly was holding him back then? Well, what about his biggest secret. The fact that Steve knew in that very moment that Tony’s parents were killed by Hydra and that the likely culprit was none other than his best-friend Bucky Barnes? As we come to learn in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Steve was not only privy to this information, but failed to tell Tony after finding it in an old newspaper clipping during Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – long before the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). So, at the time of trying to pick up Mjolnir he was, technically, deceitful and therefore unworthy. It was only once the information had come to light and Steve apologised that he was able to wield the weapon. And even then, only during a battle that saw the two finally able to fight alongside each other, as friends, again. As he explains in his letter at the end of Captain America: Civil War (2016); “I know I hurt you Tony. I guess I thought by not telling you about your parents I was sparing you, but I can see now that I was really sparing myself, and I’m sorry. Hopefully one day you can understand… So no matter what, I promise you, if you need us – if you need me – I’ll be there.”
BUT HOW DO WE KNOW THIS IS TRUE?
In the end it’s just a theory though, right? That Steve is only able to wield Mjolnir after unleashing his darkest secret and righting his perceived wrongs? Yes, of course it is. But there may be something that gives a little more credence to such claims. And it comes back to the original enchantment that was put on the hammer by Odin. In Thor (2011) the Allfather placed the spell on the weapon before banishing Thor to earth, due to the Asgardian’s giant ego and the damage it had inflicted on others. He wanted his son to go through a transformation before coming back to be a better king. He wanted him to fix his injustices by looking inside himself. This journey, arguably, mirrors what happens to Steve. He must confess his wrongs to Tony – that he kept secret the real cause of Howard and Maria Stark’s deaths – and atone for his actions – by apologising to Tony, giving him a final moment with his father, and helping fight alongside him once more.
Do you think there's any value in this theory? Sound off in the comments below.
STAGE ONE - THE CHOICE
Step one in watching any great television series, logically, must start with finding it. Now, while you may think this might be simple, what with access to content never being easier (thank you Netflix Gods), this step is actually the hardest of the bunch. Why you ask? Well, because if like me you work a soul-crushing nine-hour day before returning home to cook, clean and contemplate life, you find you have just two to three measly hours to yourself. And most of that is spent either wallowing in self-pity, scrolling through Facebook or watching funny animal videos. So, devoting that precious time to a television show means it really needs to stack up. Like – will it be so awful that just five episodes in you’ll be wondering why you already want to hit your head against a wall? Or will it be the diamond in the rough that goes on to top your favourites list for years to come (here’s looking at you Gilmore Girls). Unfortunately, at this stage it’s hard to tell which is which, so the only tools you’ll have will be a strange nagging feeling in your gut and maybe some hilarious Rotten Tomatoes reviews.
STAGE TWO - DOUBT
Okay, so you’ve found the latest binge-worthy epic, hilarious comedy or trashy romance to keep you hooked. Or at least you think you have. Now comes the part where you play it cool. Sometimes it’s because you don’t know how much you love the series yet and aren’t sure whether you should get attached to it. After all it could be a Grey’s Anatomy or a Game of Thrones, where it spans seventy-five seasons and multiple, tragic, all-consuming deaths. Or, sometimes the series has yet to get off its feet or earn a cult-following, so you aren’t sure whether there will be anyone to talk about it with. Or perhaps the show is simply on its very first season, meaning it could wind up axed two months in by network heads who couldn’t tell a good series from a flop if it hit them in the face. So, you keep it at arm’s length, watching an episode here and another there, trying not to become the clingy girlfriend. After all, you ended up in a dark hole the last time you watched something and you sure as hell won’t be making that mistake again…
STAGE THREE - PURE, UNADULTERATED JOY
This is officially the point of no return. And, like The Doctor, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry because it’s all downhill from here. You’ll know you’re here when you find yourself falling for the characters, smiling at the slick writing and wondering why on earth you didn’t watch the show sooner. Common side effects of stage three include girlish giggling when characters finally get together, sighs of relief when your ‘favourite’ character doesn’t die and screaming at the television when people do something unbelievably stupid. Try to hold onto this excitement as long as possible as you tell yourself ‘just one more episode’ until 3am or ‘I won’t click on those spoilers’ because you’ve declared yourself a true fan. Naivety is everything right now.
STAGE FOUR - OBSESSION
This is the part where it is all TV, all the time. It is often hard to tell the difference between stage three and four, because often they occur simultaneously. Most of the time it starts without you really knowing it has – with a quick IMDB search of the actors or a perusal of an online article. Then it becomes about the endless behind the scenes videos or interviews where you gasp as you discover the actors are way too old to be playing teenagers or are actually Australian/British/Canadian/Insert non-American-nationality-here. And then there’s the gag reels that help get you through work when all you want is to be watching another damn episode. Eventually you start discussing the show in phone calls with your family and by that time it’s too late because you’re ready to drag everyone else down with you just so they can experience the same feels as you. Like House Stark you know that winter is coming and there’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it. So, store up your character ships like squirrels do their nuts, because famine is coming. And it’s coming fast.
STAGE FIVE - FALSE HOPE
Okay, by now things are starting to crumble. There are cracks and resentments forming because you’ve realised that despite having five/seven/ten seasons left to watch nothing really lasts forever. You were so keen to see the characters reach #endgame, but you never thought it would happen so fast. Twenty episodes is becoming 10 at an alarming rate and by now you can recall every word or note of the opening credits song as if conducting your own orchestra. But there’s still time, right? The main characters haven’t made up yet. The final climactic fight hasn’t happened. There’s a damn killer on the loose. There’s still a season to go, right?!? But any delight you had is short-lived because suddenly the finale is here. Shit is about to get real, feels are about to be had and you’ve made it to the culmination of hundreds of hours of viewing.
STAGE SIX - DESPAIR
Your grief is overwhelming. You’ve entered a void and it can’t be filled. No more episodes, no Netflix mini-series and no talk of a spin-off. Your beloved characters have officially ridden off into the setting sun of your glowing television or computer screen, and while you want to feel happy for them you just can’t. Because they’ve deserted you and left you with a thousand lingering questions. Your spiral is so deep that you start re-watching your favourite episodes for some glimmer of the happiness you felt, but even that leaves you empty. Like Sherlock you start working the problem but there is no Moriarty to find. So, you become a mopey, gloomy, despondent shell of a person as you deal with the jet-lag of a fantastic series.
STAGE SEVEN - ACCEPTANCE
Eventually you leave your apartment, stock up on real food and start talking to your friends about something other than the series. After indulging in a bit of reality television to cleanse your palette (and your brain) you might even – gasp – be ready to move on. And there you are – right back at step one and ready to embark on a new adventure. The circle never ends. The carousel never stops spinning. And like the Winchesters – nothing ever really dies. And strangely, you’re okay with that.
As 2015 draws to a close, and we find ourselves straining under the weight of frustrations like ‘Who the hell are Rey’s parents?’ and ‘Why on earth were the Fantastic Four and Terminator series rebooted?”, we must also remember to take stock, pause, and reflect on the moments that uplifted us and kept us going throughout our trials and tribulations. After all, once you look back it is easy to see just how many good things actually happened in cinema over the last twelve months. There were both literal and figurative emotions abounding. As well as a movie that may go on to become the biggest film of all time. And there was even a man who managed to save his Pina Colada’s whilst being attacked by dinosaurs. If that doesn’t just scream good cinema then I don’t know what does. So as the New Year ticks over, and the hustle and bustle of awards season draws ever nearer, let us check out the best of the best from 2015.
Best Film: The Martian (2015)
If there is one film you should see this year (other than Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) because people might spoil that one for you if you’re not careful) it is Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2015). Adapted from the book of the same name by Andy Weir, the film boasts a stellar cast (Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, the list goes on and on…) as well as snappy dialogue, and relatively accurate science (I said relatively okay. This is Mars after all.) It’s the ‘everything you could want in a movie’ for this year. There’s action, humour, emotion, and a fantastic soundtrack. There has never, and may never be again, a more apt use of the songs ‘Starman’ and ‘Hot Stuff’. Actually, there’s never been a better use of Disco music in a movie full stop. But at the heart of this piece is a powerful and moving lesson about just how strong the human spirit can be when it is pushed to its limits. How deep can you dig? How patient can you be? How long can you survive? Because in the wise words of Watney, “At some point, everything's gonna go south on you and you're going to say; ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That's all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”
Best Blockbuster: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
With 2016 set to be the year of the Superhero, it must be assumed then that 2015 is the year of the Blockbuster. And if there is one film that stands well above its competitors it can be none other than the one that flies in from a galaxy far far away… Yes, I talk of the one, the only, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), a film that unsurprisingly takes out the best blockbuster of the year title, not only because it has become the fastest film to reach $1 billion dollars, but because it is exceptionally well put together in the face of overwhelming odds. I mean, would you have wanted to direct a $200 million dollar film that could potentially be the laughing stock of the cinematic world? Didn’t think so. But JJ Abrams has the guts and glory to go far, staving off the critics and the studio big-wigs to craft a film that is energetic, respectful to its origins, and really just a damn fun ride to go on. It never dips, it never delays, and it sure as hell never disappoints, meaning that fans all around the world will once again be in anticipation come 2017 when Star Wars: Episode VIII storms into theatres.
Best Actor: Matt Damon in The Martian (2015)
When you carry a near two-and-a-half hour movie by yourself, my belief is that you deserve all the praise coming your way. So when Matt Damon took on the arduous task of portraying stranded astronaut Mark Watney in The Martian (2015) he automatically gained a leap forward on my Best Actor pick for the year. Once I saw the movie however, the reasons to acknowledge his wondrous performance only got clearer and clearer. Although it is easy to boil Damon’s acting decisions down to merely a cross between his constantly cheerful character Benjamin Mee from We Bought A Zoo (2013) and his ‘think outside the box’ handy-man Jason Bourne from the Bourne franchise (2002 – 2016), his work here is instead finely nuanced and hilariously uplifting, unlike anything we’ve really seen him play before. I’d go so far as to say it is maybe even the best performance he’s ever put to screen. And yes, he is helped along generously by a witty script, fantastic supporting cast, and especially by the wise direction of master filmmaker Ridley Scott. But underneath all of this is an intense portrayal of one of the most timeless stories put to screen– that of the battle a person wages within themself to decide to survive. He is every one of us in his magnanimous will to live, and despite his frustration and perils he still manages it with a smile. Damon isn’t playing Mark Watney here, he damn well is Mark Watney. And that demands respect.
Best Actress: Brie Larson in Room (2015)
It was the surprise hit at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this year after taking out the People’s Choice Award, so it should come as no surprise then that the stunning leading lady’s performance in Room (2015) is up there as the best of the best for the year. Brie Larson’s turn as Ma in the film adapted from the book of the same name by Emma Donoghue is nothing short of a revelation. Confronting, emotional, and heart-breaking, Larson never holds back, giving the role her all and channelling the fierce love a mother has for her child as easily as if Jacob Tremblay’s Jack was her own son. Many have already called her as the strongest contender for the Best Actress Oscar come February, and I have no qualms at all to state the same. The fire she kicked into gear in Short Term 12 (2013) is again intense and bright here, and ultimately, she deserves everything she’s going to get along the blazing path it is burning.
Best Breakout Performance: Oona Laurence in Southpaw (2015) and Jacob Tremblay in Room (2015)
With so many powerful and evocative performances on display this year, it was a hard task to narrow them down to just one. A task that proved impossible when it came to this category. For not only were there two impressive debuts that stood out above the crowd this year, but they came from two young actors making their big-budget film debuts. So tying this year as the best breakout performers were Oona Laurence as Leila in Southpaw (2015), and Jacob Tremblay as Jack in Room (2015). Portraying a maturity beyond their years, whilst retaining their childlike innocence and vulnerability, these two actors prove that sometimes less is more when trying to convey intense emotions. At only 13 and 9 each could easily have a long and celebrated career in film ahead of them, meaning this could be the year we look back on a go – ‘That’s when I saw it. The spark. That’s when I knew they were going to be great.’
Best Cameo: Hugh Jackman as a Wolverine poster in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
Managing to one-up his brilliant cameo in X-Men: First Class (2011) all those years ago (Admit it, you’ve never heard a line more appropriately delivered than the ‘Go Fuck Yourself’ he growls to Charles and Erik), Hugh Jackman once again manages to take out the honour of best cameo this year, playing none other than a poster of Wolverine. Yes, that’s right, a poster. A beautiful goddam poster. Providing some wise (and unexpected) words to protagonist Greg about how to go about discussing a cancer diagnosis in a tactful way, Jackman’s moment in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) is the icing on top of the depressing but realistic cake the film turns out to be. It’s not the adrenaline pumping scenario we’re used to seeing him in, but the whimsical way in which our expectations are altered, certainly makes it a worthwhile one.
Best Song: Brian Eno’s “The Big Ship” from Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
It was, undoubtedly, one of the most haunting musical pieces to reverberate off the walls of the cinema this year. Whilst ‘Starman’ ironically bounced around the surface of The Martian (2015), and ‘See You Again’ brought tears to the eyes of Furious 7 (2015) fans everywhere, a simple tune full of rising crescendo’s and swelling refrains is what calls out to be acknowledged as the best use of a song this year. Brian Eno’s “The Big Ship” from Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) takes the number one position because of how unashamedly it reflects upon the nature of our existence. Playing across the final moments of the film the song is one of beginnings. And one of endings. No words, no whispers, no waking from its spell. Just three minutes were something so beautiful and so raw can reach across the screen and pierce your soul. Now that’s life.
Best Score: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) by John Williams.
John Williams is the master of music. Having scored tracks for films as vast and varied as Jaws (1975), Jurassic Park (1993), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and the entire Indiana Jones (1981 – 2008) series, Williams could be forgiven for wanting to slow down after six decades in the industry. But not only has he chosen to forsake retirement (at least for now), he is powering ahead to provide beautifully orchestrated pieces like the latest Star Wars: The Force Awakens soundtrack. Paying homage to his iconic pieces, whilst firmly constructing the magic for a new generation of fans, the score undoubtedly has to rate among the best of the year. Whilst ‘Rey’s Theme’ holds a special place as an uplifting new melody, it has to be ‘Torn Apart’ that is the score’s highlight, the sudden turn in the piece lifting towards a crescendo and taking our hearts along with it. When it stops, so too does our breathe. And sadly, we never really quite catch it back. So although he may be 83, but here’s hoping Williams has still got enough force to see him through the next trilogy. Because Star Wars just wouldn’t be the same without him.
Best Trailer: Captain America: Civil War (2015)
Now don’t get me wrong, there have been a tonne of beautifully constructed, action-packed, and dramatically infused trailers that have debuted this year. Most of which made their mark come December, as they tried to one-up each other in an effort to find their clips attached to JJ Abrams Sci-fi megalith Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But there is one singular moment which drives Captain America: Civil War home as the most memorable of the bunch. The moment Chris Evans’ patriotic Cap remarks that “I wouldn’t do this if I had any other choice, but he’s [Bucky] my friend”, before Tony Stark looks forlornly towards camera and utters the line “So was I…” It hits you right in the feels, and that’s even before a parody version featuring Adele’s ‘Hello’ mixed over the top made its way online. Forget about the newfound Poe and Finn bromance, cause here comes two buddy pairings for the price of one, as the superheroes realise it’s never quite light or dark when taking a side.
Best Quote: Inside Out (2015)
Although Cap’s pep talk in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) is one for the history books, with him stating; “You get hurt, hurt 'em back. You get killed, walk it off,” it is strangely not the best line of dialogue from this year’s pickings. Not even Matt Damon’s quip as Astronaut Mark Watney in The Martian (2015) that he will “have to science the shit out of this” can take the crown. Instead, we are once again boarding the feels train with the winner going to the gorgeous but tragic line “Take her to the moon for me, Okay?” as said by Richard Kind’s imaginary friend Bing Bong from Inside Out (2015). The character, who is an elephant-cat hybrid made of pink fairy floss, easily represents the inner child in us that fades as we head further and further into adulthood.
1. Home Alone (1990) / Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992)
No matter how much you may dislike Macaulay Culkin there is of course no better Christmas-themed cheer than that of the Home Alone kind. When young Kevin gets left behind (or in the case of the second movie gets re-routed to a completely different city) as his family ventures off on their Hallmark holiday unbeknownst to his absence, the fun and festivities really begin. The ingenious kid, ironically labelled ‘les incompetant’ by his cousin, uses his spare time to foil a pair of dim-witted thieves and their plans to ruin the Christmas celebrations. And he doesn’t half-heart his efforts either, setting up a series of elaborate booby traps that include icy steps, flying paint cans, a tarantula and doorknobs so hot they turn into branding irons. Filled with hilarious one-liners, Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York not only showcase the comedic charms of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as bumbling bandits Harry and Marv but also the importance of family.
2. Love Actually (2003)
Can I just start by saying Billy Mack (Bill Nighy’s) is without a doubt a gift to all. I mean, doesn’t he just channel everybody’s yuletide joy when he opens this British ensemble piece by consistently forgetting the line ‘Christmas is all around’, before realising his mistake and letting out his frustration by swearing “Oh! Fuck wank bugger shitting arse head and hole!” The movie only gets better from there too, following a group of interconnected people who are gearing up for the countdown to Christmas. While all the naysayers continue to proclaim that Love Actually is a sexist, cringe-worthy piece, I say Bah Humbugs! What makes this festive fun instead of holiday hell is the fact thatit is irreverently self-aware of its flaws. For God’s sake, good old Billy Mack begins the movie pointing this out, stating “This is shit isn’t it?” as his record manager looks on and replies “Yep, solid gold shit”. Within all the chaos and commercialisation Christmas brings, where lobsters can too easily become part of the nativity, we are reminded that love actually is all around.
3. The Santa Clause Trilogy (1994 – 2006)
Tim Allen and Christmas films are synonymous. But his most notable dalliance with the genre comes with The Santa Clause trilogy, a series that starts out strong before tapering off into childishness and clichés. Before it does though, there’s a lot of love to be found in story of Scott Calvin, a business oriented father who on Christmas Eve accidentally causes the jolly man in red to fall off his roof (and pretty much die… wait this is Disney right?) After putting on his suit and thereby inadvertently taking on the role of Kris Kringle, (or Sinterklaas, or Pere Noel, or Babbo Natale, okay… you get the point) Calvin is tasked with saving Christmas. He is helped along by the wonderful supporting cast of his son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) and head-elf Bernard (David Krumholtz) both who deliver fantastic performances. It’s a ‘suspend-disbelief’ tale, but one that works just as well for children, teenagers and pensioners. It may not be Allen’s best work but it’s certainly up there, boasting a wonderful addition to anyone’s Christmas viewing.
4. The Holiday (2006)
When a movie begins with the words of William Shakespeare, it’s generally a sign of one of two things. Either that you’re going to lose viewers who think that ye olde English is just too damn hard to understand or you are going to gain viewers who are smart enough to understand the lesson the movie is trying to tell you. Both of which are a good thing. This is exactly what happens in The Holiday, a tale about two women who switch houses to escape the drear of ruined love lives over the festive period. The film begins with down-and-out British beauty Iris stating how extraordinary a thought it is that “Journeys end in lovers meeting’”, before going on to deliver just that sentiment, as her and her equally loveless American counterpart Amanda, strive to ignore anything romantic but are still delivered it in the form of Jack Black and Jude Law. Wonderfully acted and smartly scripted, The Holiday is a rare and heartwarming Christmas gift.
5. Rise of the Guardians (2012)
If there’s one thing DreamWorks has done right since Shrek (2001), it is produce the wonderful, enchanting and artistically stunning picture Rise of the Guardians. The story focuses on the traditional immortal protectors of children’s innocence, imagination and hope. That of the Tooth Fairy, Sandman, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. When this group is challenged by The Boogeyman - Pitch Black - who hatches a plan to instill fear across the world, new recruit Jack Frost is brought in to discover his centre of fun and bring Pitch down. It’s an inventive tale drawn from the similarly titled book series by William Joyce and it’s one that is both emotive and surprisingly adult. It works its magic by making you believe in the world, just as children believe in Santa.
6. I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1998)
Desert, Santa, Buzzard, Tumbleweed. Four words that mean something hilarious to anyone who has ever had the pleasure of watching Disney’s I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Following 'then' teen heart-throb Jonathon Taylor Thomas as college student Jake, this festive flick follows the cross-country exploits of a disheartened youngster. Beginning the film trying to make it home in time to cash in on his father’s vintage Porsche, along his journey he finds the real Christmas spirit and the love that it brings. Filled with one laugh-out-loud and cringe-worthy moment after the other, such as Santa beards glued to faces and stolen goods delivered to sick children, I’ll Be Home for Christmas certainly knows how to make merry.
7. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Originating in 1947 with Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood and updated in 1994 with Richard Attenborough and Mara Wilson, Miracle on 34th Street is arguably one of the most genre-defining films about the season of Christmas. Telling the story of a department store Santa who is brought to court over a false assault case, the tale winds up with his lawyer having to prove that not only does the mythical man exist, but Kringle is indeed him. It’s a traditional John Hughes scripted movie, full of magic and wonder and a lesson in why we print things like 'In God We Trust' on money.
8. The Polar Express (2004)
Okay, the first thing one must admit about The Polar Express is that it is full of dead, beady eyes. For some reason, early motion capture animation performances just didn’t quite know how to bring the windows to the soul alive. But if one can get past this and the slightly creepy idea that Tom Hanks can play six separate characters in one film, The Polar Express makes for an extraordinarily emotional piece. It’s a pretty straightforward story, told as a memory of a young boy who awakes Christmas Eve and is magically transported aboard a train to the North Pole. Friendship, bravery and the true meaning of Christmas as scattered about but what truly makes this movie a cut above the rest is the feeling it brings with it. How it imitates that rush of pure unbridled joy you felt when you were six years old and awoke at 5am to see the sun striking the tinsel on the tree. And who doesn't still hope to hear that bell ring…
9. Gremlins (1984)
There are only three rules to owning a Mogwai. Number one – don't get them wet. Number two – keep them away from sunlight. And number three – never, ever, feed them after midnight. Seems simple enough right? Well not for Billy Peltzer, a young teenager who comes into possession of a cute little gremlin named Gizmo for Christmas. When the fluff-ball accidentally gets wet and gorges himself on food after midnight chaos and calamity erupt, as little green guys begin to tear through the town of Kingston Falls. Gremlins is not your typical holiday fare, filled with more terror than tinsel and mayhem than miracles. But that’s what makes it a classic.
10. Die Hard (1988)
Yippee-ki-yay MotherFucker! Not exactly a line you would expect from a warm-and-fuzzy holiday themed film, but then again, Die Hard is not exactly typical Christmas fare. Centering on New York City police officer John McClane and his run in with a group of dangerous terrorists at his wife’s Christmas work party, the film is arguably a classic. Filled with explosions, twinkling lights and one of the worst slow-motion falls put to film, Die Hard is not just a film but an experience. And during the time of ‘goodwill to all men’ and ‘joy to the world’, it makes for a great piece of escapist fun. So while it doesn’t really bring the Christmas cheer, it does bring the action and humour, as well as the feeling that you just want to “come out the coast, get together, and have a few laughs”…
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Die Hard 2 (1990), Elf (2003), Bad Santa (2003).
Notable Never - Mentions:
Jingle All The Way (1996), A Christmas Carol (2009), Deck The Halls (2006), Fred Claus (2007), Surviving Christmas (2004).
Time travel movies are notoriously hard things to get right. If it’s not the scientists critiquing a director’s use of references to the theory of relativity, it’s the disappointment of a movie resting on the laurels of the unimaginative line ‘it’s genetic’. Very rarely do we see a work of time-travelling cinematic arts so smart that it can a) be both logical and realistic, and b) remind us why time travel is not meant to be toyed with in the first place.
At its core, what makes or breaks a time travel film is in how well it handles the after-effects of the temporal relocations. Any old film can send someone back in time, but it is only the truly great ones that show us the consequences of this, and unbeknownst to us teach us something in the process. That what can start as good intentions; can also quickly spiral into something that causes more harm than good. We all remember what Hermione once said right? That awful things can happen to those who meddle with time. So, whilst we wait for the next greatest time travelling conundrum to grace our screens and mess with our minds, let’s take a look back at some of the many perils time travelling has produced, and the lessons we have learnt from them.
Firstly, before we can delve into the dangers that travelling in time may impose upon a character, we must first understand how such temporal shifts work. Namely the theory behind what changes or stays the same. The method doesn’t really matter, (it can pretty much be split into either a genetic predisposition, or a vague-on-the-details time-travelling machine that does all the work for you), what is really important is whether or not the future they leave, will be the same one they return to. This is because whatever theory a character is stuck with, will change the types of hazards they might encounter.
There are, as such, three major categories or different ‘timelines’ that are created when a character journeys temporally. Firstly there is the Fixed Timeline whereby the future is set, and changing something in the past only works to make sure that the future becomes what it always was. Thereby absolutely nothing a character does in the past can change what happens in their future. They almost needn’t bother trying. In the words of the late, great, Doris Day herself; “Que Sera Sera”. The second theory is instead referred to as the Dynamic Timeline, in which changing something in the past has a ripple effect on the future. If a character kills their younger self in that timeline, they are a goner. Or they wind up creating a paradox where they never existed to start with. Or the ripples start turning into tsunami waves and they end up rewriting history so that Hitler lives. Ok, maybe not the last one, but you get the picture. Lastly, there is the Multiverse / Altered Timeline. This is where each time travel results in the party shifting to a parallel universe, and anything they do simply rewrites the new timelines history. Jokes on them though, because they can’t return to their original timeline anyway, so it basically ends the same way a Dynamic Timeline does.
Ok? With me so far? Need to watch Looper (2012) one more time? Alright then, for those still following, now it’s time for the lighter stuff. The disastrous, deadly, and downright dumb things that can happen as a result of characters deciding to mess around with temporal relocation. The plot-points that remind us why time travel films just won’t go out of fashion. No pun intended.
Firstly there is the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. This is a peril that can befall those who enter a Fixed Timeline. Because the future they leave cannot be changed, no matter their actions they are still doomed to make it happen. Usually in films involving this danger, the menace is alluded to from the beginning, but is not fully realised until the very end. This is what makes such films enjoyable, providing a twist finale that is both smart, worthy, and thought-provoking. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) it is a rare good outcome, that we as an audience come to by way of well-scripted do-over that ends up saving two lives instead of one (then again were both lives not already saved all along?). In Twelve Monkeys (1995) however, the concept is a bad one, explored through James Cole’s reminiscence of a man who was shot in an airport, that later turned out to be the older version of himself. If we learn anything from this peril, it is that sometimes things are just meant to be. That, and it’s amazing how this hazard can still sneak up on us, despite seeing multiple films that feature it.
Another peril that can transpire from a Dynamic Timeline is that of a character Killing Oneself to Reset the Future. When an evil version of them is out for vengeance in the past, or they screw things up so much they can’t undo them, the only way out is to make it so they never existed to begin with. This can be handled one of two ways, the devilishly smart effort that is Looper (2012), or the lazily handled work that is The Butterfly Effect (2004). Where one teaches us that sometimes you must make necessary sacrifices for the greater good, and believe that hope is stronger than fear, the other tells us that if we weren’t an idiot this never would’ve really happened in the first place. One guess which film is which.
A unique peril that can feature in Any Timeline is that of Meeting Another Version Of Yourself. This can end in one of many possibilities, all of which are usually not good. Most notably there is the ‘unbecoming’ of a character, whereby coming across another version of oneself wipes both out for good. This is what occurs in Project Almanac (2015). The further the teenagers jump back in time, the greater the problems that ensue when they meet up with another version of themselves. Jump back a night and they can still snap out of it. Jump back weeks, or months, and both versions disappear until the timeline can be rewritten back to its original (i.e. making sure they don’t build the time machine in the first place.) Perhaps the only film that does make any good out of the situation is Star Trek (2009) and then, that is probably only because it features one way time travel, so old Spock is fundamentally different to new Spock, solely on the grounds that New Spock will experience everything differently. Although the concept is typically not slickly handled in films, and could certainly use some fine-tuning for future flicks, these films still teach us something important. That maybe there is only meant to be one of us at any given time for a reason. There is after all, something beautiful about the balance of nature.
Lastly, the final one is the most head-spinning of all. Only one movie has dared attempt it, and even then, we still don’t know exactly what happened after watching it a few dozen times. Occurring in a Fixed Timeline, or potentially a Dynamic Timeline too, is the peril of Becoming you own Parent, Grandparent or Child. Yes, I am talking about Predestination (2014), in which Ethan Hawke becomes Sarah Snook, who becomes Ethan Hawke, who becomes…ok, you get the picture. If a movie is ever going to do your head in, this is the one. Both the Barkeep and the Unmarried Mother are the same person. And their child is them as well. It’s just one big endless time loop, with the father impregnating the mother, who gives birth to daughter, who is stolen by father, who is dropped back in time to become the mother, who goes on to be impregnated, who then gives birth, and then has a sex change, which sees her become father, and the loop starts again. It’s about the weirdest and worst thing that can happen as a result of time travel, but it’s pulled off with such finesse in the film, that it never seems cheap. We certainly get consequences from this film, but lesson? Well…maybe it’s just the plain and simple don’t screw with time, or time will screw with you.
1. The Departed (2006)
Undoubtedly one of Martin Scorsese’s finest films, The Departed (2006) was a violent and volatile movie experience that followed the parallel stories of an undercover cop and a mole for an Irish gang in South Boston. The film produced fine performances from Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio and although, like most Scorsese films, it clocks in at an absurdly long two and a half hours, it is still one of the most enthralling pieces of cinema ever created. Its best aspect however, is the fact that it became an Academy Award winner for Best Picture despite using the word ‘fuck’ 237 times. What most people don't know though is that it is a remake of gritty Hong Kong crime-thriller, Mou Gaan Dou or Internal Affairs (2002).
2. Star Trek (2009)
With Star Trek (2009) director J.J. Abrams was able to breathe life into a franchise that had continuously struggled with sub-par television shows like The Next Generation (1987) and Voyager (1995). Deciding to reboot the series instead of simply remake it, Abrams found a way to have the best of both worlds, including the late great Leonard Nemoy and a little bit of time travel to create wonder for a whole new generation of fans. Despite using way too many lens flares (We get it, you are artistic, but can you seriously stop blinding us,) Abrams work was fresh and fun. Space has never looked as good as it has in the hands of Abrams.
3. 21 Jump Street (2012)
Despite initial reservations about this reboot of the 1987 television series of the same name, (we really, really, expected it to bomb), this was without a doubt the best surprise hit of 2012. The new take focused on the classic trope of the ‘buddy movie’, bringing more comedy than mystery and delivering us some of the best one-liners in recent history. We’re still laughing over Jenko’s attempt to learn whilst on drugs; “One particle of unobtanium has a nuclear reaction with the flux capacitor – carry the two – changing its atomic isotoner into a radioactive spider. Fuck you science!” Just like the message of the movie, it’s not about how smart it is, it’s about how you connect with it and express those feelings.
4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
We all know how awful Mark Wahlberg's Planet of The Apes (2001) was. It practically destroyed the franchise. After that atrocity we felt sure the series would not return. But our prayers were answered in the form of the reboot / sidequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes(2011). Despite the overdrawn title, the film brought a certain sophistication back to the idea of apes becoming the next step on the evolutionary ladder. What really sold the film however was the sheer beauty of WETA’s motion capture technology. No more ape suits, no more make-up and no more Mark Wahlberg, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) was pure unadulterated performance.
5. X-Men: First Class (2011)
We’re not saying the original X-Men movies were bad. Okay the third film definitely falls into that category. But the idea of leaving the characters and universe intact while rebooting them to explore their younger versions was an ingenious proposal. Matthew Vaughn brought us the final product in X-Men: First Class (2011): a fresh, clean and clear piece. James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Laurence bring a youthful and clever appeal to fan favourite characters and breathtaking visuals paved the way for a promising trilogy.
6. Batman Begins (2005)
George Clooney’s nipple suit is image we will never be able to remove from our brains, but Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) sure goes a long way to overcoming this. Whilst superhero movies are too often remade and rebooted there is a clear difference with Nolan’s version, mainly that it is the cleverest attempt yet. Neglecting the camp elements of the comic book character, Welshman Christian Bale brings a much needed edge and intellectual depth to his Bruce Wayne. Moreover, Nolan has clearly thought-out his adaptations, narrowing them down to a three-film scope and invoking a thematic journey for each picture (Fear in the first film, chaos in the second, and pain in the third).
7. The Ring (2002)
The movie that paved the way for a hundred foreign language horror remakes The Ring (2002) was one of this centuries best attempts at the horror genre. And what a remake it is, holding the box office record for such films with over $250 million in worldwide gross as of 2010. Not only that but it sold more than two million copies within its first 24 hours of release on video. The atmospheric thriller still holds audiences captivated today, resting on its ability to maintain suspense rather than offering shock value by piling on the gore. Kids today still hear stories about cursed videotapes and think twice. Those that actually know what videotapes are at least.
8. Django Unchained (2012)
There is very little that the original Django (1966) and Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 remake Django Unchained (2012) have in common outside of their gun-slinging revenge spaghetti western premise. Tarantino unleashes his full genius to the benefit of audiences everywhere creating rip-roaring fun. Yes the film lacks direction at times and is sloppily arranged, but these points pale in comparison to Tarantino doing what he does best: brutality and blood. We don’t watch it for its realism; we watch it for its honesty. Sometimes greatness comes in how a film never takes itself too seriously.
9. Let Me In (2010)
In a time when vampires were all the rage, Let Me In (2010) gave us a taste of what vampirism is really like; confined to the dark, craving death and stuck in an endless world of farewells. The dark and gruesome Swedish original Let The Right One In (2008) still maintains a hold over the remake, but Matt Reeves English version certainly does the original source material justice. Following it nearly take for take it deviates just enough to develop its own style and substance. Both young leads, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz, handle their characters with maturity and intensity and help to drive the narrative along. In Let Me In (2010), Reeves managed to achieve what many directors seek but hardly ever find - the glory of producing a film that does not undermine the original, but instead works as a great alternative piece.
10. The Parent Trap (1998)
Before Lindsay Lohan went completely off the rails she played precocious twins Hallie and Annie Parker in a remake of the 1961 Parent Trap film. And though many of us would rather die than admit it, she was actually very good. I'm not saying it was an Oscar worthy performance or production, but The Parent Trap (1998) manages to entrance kids to this day, something the original film never did. Explaining American camps to those living outside the United States and fooling us into believing that Lindsay Lohan really did have an identical twin sister, the film is light, family fun. It’s Disney done right.
Brothers (2009), True Grit (2010), Twelve Monkeys (1995), The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).
Notable Never - Mentions:
Don't even get me started on Superman Returns (2006) or Johnny Depp's creepy attempt at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), The Karate Kid (2010), The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008) and Nicholas Cage's "The bees! The BEEEEEES!!!!" The Wicker Man (2006).
Horror films are designed to scare us. Yet despite grasping this concept, we as a society still continue to watch them. Why? Well, there are a few reasons. For starters, some people actually like being scared. Others enjoy the gore. And then there are the ones who like to feel superior by watching stupid people die. But when it comes down to it, there is something strangely primal about the desire to know how to outwit the villain, how to outsmart the killer, and how to, well, survive. We think that if we know how other people fall victim to psychopaths and maniacs, then of course we will never be as stupid when facing similar circumstances. At its most basic, horror films are a study in the fundamentals of our basic biology; the more we as an audience learn about how to survive, the longer we live, and the more likely we are to pass on our ‘surviving genes’ to our progeny. No-one wants to be the blonde, bimbo-ey, big-busted, high-heeled, and easily trip-uppable woman who dies early. They want to be the one that makes it to the sequel.
Sadly, learning the tricks of this survival-trade is almost too easy now, given that for all the originality horror started with when it first emerged as a genre, most of its films now often fall into the trap of cliché. The killer lives in the woods. He has some unresolved mommy issues. He wields an implement of death that is frankly just quite absurd (I mean who the hell carries around chainsaws or fingered blade gloves anyway?). Whilst the predictability of these films does remove some of the scares, oppositely it provides a perfect opportunity for us as viewers to perfect our ‘how to make it to the end of the film alive’ knowledge. Therefore, I present to you the best tips for surviving a horror film. And for all those naysayers who ask “why would I need to know such a thing?” horror films are after all just films, I have five simple words for you. Based. On. A. True. Story.
1. BE A VIRGIN
Number one is the basic unwritten rule that pervades almost all horror films. Purity. If you can, be a virgin, because we all know the virgin lives. If you’ve seen it in Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) and Scream (1996), you’ve seen it in pretty much all of them. Virgins are practically untouchable in the eyes of killers. They can be battered, bruised, or broken, but just like the killer, they are an unstoppable force of nature that just can't die.
2. DON'T HAVE SEX
Similarly, if you can’t be the virgin, at least be the person who doesn’t have sex. Do not have sex in a car. Do not have sex on the beach. Do not for God’s sake have sex in the woods. Just don’t have sex. Anywhere. You will get pregnant, and you will DIE.
3. DO NOT GO INTO THE WOODS
As the song goes – “If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise.” A big, bloody, massacre-filled surprise. Which, let’s face it, should not really be a surprise anymore. Even Into the Woods (2014) tells us not to go into the woods, and that’s a Disney film.
4. DON'T CALL OUT TO SEE IF ANYONE IS THERE
I’m sorry to break it to you but your friends are already dead. You can mourn them and steal their stuff later. Right now your survival depends on your ability to accept that, suck it up and move on.
5. STOP TRYING TO CONVINCE PEOPLE TO BELIEVE YOU
Give up on your crusade to convince others of the insane goings on in your house, town, or summer camp. You are wasting important breath you could be better using to outrun the killer. People will not listen to you. Not your friends, not your parents, and certainly not your local police. More often than not they are in on it, and will turn out to be the killer. Those who aren’t are instead plagued with a serious case of “oblivious-itis”. There can be a body lying savagely ripped apart mere metres from them, and they will still turn to you and say; “There’s nothing bad going on. It’s all in your head. Go do your calculus homework.”
6. NEVER TRUST THE CHILDREN
They might appear like innocent, victimless and doe-eyed little people, but they are either the person who is going to beat you to survival (because filmmakers couldn’t possibly let a child die), or the devil's spawn sent to kill you. Either way, sacrifice the kid and save yourself. This is the Hunger Games. May the odds be ever in your favour.
7. DO NOT BE THE IDIOT
Now, the idiot comes in a variety of forms in horror films. They are the person who asks whether you should all split up. The answer to that question is a definitive no. Every time. Have you ever heard the principle that when in a pack, one need only outrun the weakest member to survive? Idiots are also that one guy who puts his ear or eye up to the door when things go silent. It’s a trap. It’s always a trap. There is nothing good waiting on the other side, I promise. And who is the most idiotic of them all you ask? The one that reads the weird Latin Satan-summoning incantation from a book made of human skin, labelled ‘Book of the Dead: Do Not Read’. In the words of Mike Wazowski; “Put that thing back where it came from, or so help, so help me!”
8. NEVER STATE THAT YOU'LL BE RIGHT BACK
It’s pretty simple, no you won’t. You are not the terminator, and unless you’re a virgin you are not indestructible. Those four words are what we in the know like to call ‘killer-bait’, signalling the most sure-fire way for you to never see tomorrow’s sunrise.
9. DO NOT EXPECT THINGS TO WORK
Car, phone, flashlight. In the horror-verse technology is known to abandon you in your most desperate of times. It will end up going all Skynet on you, so prepare yourself. In terms of the car, don’t bother driving it. Even if it was perfectly fine when you arrived something will be wrong. Tyres slashed, brakes cut, engine missing, dude sitting in the back seat. Cars are really just murderous beasts who refuse to start because they want you to die. Phone reception too, is as dubious as those advertisements that tell you it ‘only costs $9.99’. Morse code or smoke signals would be more effective. Lastly, bring a light source that is not a torch. Even those run by solar power will find some way of going dark on you just as the killer approaches. Try glow-sticks. At least that way you can see your death coming in a beautiful blue, green, or red aura.
10. THE MINORITY ALWAYS DIES
Whilst I don’t like to be racist, there is a trend that sees minorities condemned to never make it out of a horror film alive. As the saying goes, the black guy is the first to go. Even when he’s not, he is never the one that survives long enough for the final show-down. Neither is the Asian, the Latino or any foreigner really. Especially if you’re travelling outback Australia. On second thoughts, don’t go to outback Australia either. It’s not like there’s anything interesting out there than a giant rock anyway. No really…it’s mostly just desert. And a few kangaroos. That’s it. I’m not pulling your leg. But the Mick from Wolf Creek (2005) might if you’re not careful.
11. STEP AWAY FROM THE FOG
If you see white wispy mist up ahead, head in the opposite direction. Bad things never happen on a sunny Hawaiian beach, but foggy woods just give you that ‘about to be stabbed and mutilated’ feeling, you know what I mean?
12. DON'T ANSWER THE DOOR AT NIGHT
There’s a knock on the door in the middle of the night. That seems strange. It must just be Grandma dropping over some midnight munchies right? Don’t open the door. It seems simple enough, but people honestly don’t do it. So repeat after me – Do not open the door. Do anything else. Watch a movie, do your laundry, bake your own cookies, just DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR. If it’s really important they will come back tomorrow. In the daylight. And without the axe…
13. LEARN HOW TO USE A GUN
Know how to use a gun. Know how to dismantle, reassemble and load it. Know how to do it with your eyes closed. There is nothing worse than a last minute ‘he’s running at me with a knife but the gun's jammed’ scenario. So many horror movie deaths could be avoided by simple military-level weaponry knowledge. That and how a sawn-off shotgun can blow anyone’s head near clean off. Works wonders for the boys on Supernatural (2005).
14. GET YOUR RUNNING SHOES ON
Be an Olympic runner. It's not hard. Our bodies are designed for fight or flight, and more often than not the fight side of that equation doesn’t work. Especially not on an immortal serial killer. Do some cardio, and RUN FOREST RUN.
15. NEVER LET YOUR GUARD DOWN
And lastly, the most important tip of all - when the dead guy is dead, he’s not really dead. He’s only playing dead, like a well-behaved dog. Double, triple, and quadruple tap the dead guy. Then dismember the body. And don’t forget to burn the pieces. And whilst you’re at it don’t ever drop your weapon. Even when you think the game is over and done with, and you can finally go and relax for a week in the Bahamas, its not really over. The killer will make a resurgence and soon enough you'll find yourself in the sequel.
1. Harry Potter (2001 - 2011)
There is nothing as magical as Harry Potter. Nothing. Especially if you were lucky enough to be part of the generation that grew up reading and watching the series. Generating almost $10 billion dollars in sales during its release it's easy to say that the much loved series was not only faithful to the books, but a fun-filled once-in-a-generation event.
2. The Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit (2011 - 2003 & 2012 - 2014)
Second only to Harry Potter was Tolkien's beloved books. These monstrous epics, with run-times of almost 3 hours each, were both stunningly and expertly brought to the screen by New Zealander Peter Jackson. Filled with fights, lots of bare feet and state-of-the-art motion capture, these films are not so much 'movies' as 'experiences'.
3. Jurassic Park (1993)
Steven Spielberg brought dinosaurs to life. He really did. While the second film was nowhere near the standard or expectations of the first and sections of the first book were either re-written or completely changed, we can forgive Spielberg for it. If only for the utter glory and joy he brought back to film-making. It is a feast for both the eyes and soul and one we can continuously relive and regale 22 years in the future.
4. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Spending 19 years in prison for a crime you didn't commit is both horrendous and a fantastic concept for both film. And what a film it was. It gave us one of the best duos to grace the screen in the form of Red and Andy and it gave us one of the better lines in cinematic history with the quote 'get busy living, or get busy dying'. And that's all before the killer twist ending. But more than that, The Shawshank Redemption provides a glimpse into the life of a prisoner; showing us that despite the worst actions we inflict upon others, most of the time, there is still humanity in us.
5. Fight Club (1999)
We are contractually obliged not to talk about Fight Club. It's rule one (and by proxy rule two).
6. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Twelve words and a sharp intake of air through lips. That's all it took for Anthony Hopkins to showcase his talent. Hopkins nuanced, charming, well-mannered and controlled depiction of Hannibal Lecter is among the best ever. The moment he states "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti", his acting was no longer simply a performance but transcended into the realm of nightmare-inducing realism.
7. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Frank L. Baum's 1899 children's book seemed fanciful stuff when it was first released. A talking scarecrow, a man made of tin and a lion that was scared of people. But after it was adapted into a popular Broadway musical in 1902 a film version was subsequently issued and what a film it was. Not only did it launch Judy Garland's career but it shaped the imaginations of children for years to come. Even now, almost 76 years since its release, the film still holds ground as one of the greatest family-friendly pictures ever produced.
8. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Fundamentally this film could make the list purely on the back of Heath Ledgers' groundbreaking performance alone. Yet this piece, developed from the short story by Annie Proulx, deals with its subject matter with such intimacy and poignancy that at times you forget you're watching a film. That is the true beauty of this adaptation, it breaks you with its honesty and it haunts you with its beauty.
9. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Solomon Northup's story seems made for film. A powerful picture of the divide that existed between Caucasian Americans and African Americans, made it not just a great film, but a truly important one in acknowledging America's history, and reminding us how little time ago it actually occurred.
10. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
The 2011 psychological thriller based upon the book by Lionel Shriver was absorbing, captivating and utterly enthralling. Even when you know the worst is coming it's hard to look away. Leading lady Tilda Swinton is wonderfully cast as Eva, a mother struggling to deal with her potentially psychotic and unemotional son and Ezra Miller gives a breakthrough performance as the troubled titular character Kevin. Best of all, the film discusses two prominent issues in society - mental illness and school massacres - in a way that makes it impossible for people to pretend that they don't exist or can't be helped.
Whale Rider (2002), The Great Gatsby (2013), The Godfather (1972), Jane Eyre (2011), The Help (2005), and The Fault In Our Stars (2014).
The Twilight Saga (2008 - 2012), Eragon (2006), The Divergent Series (2014 - 2016), Whatever the hell that Golden Compass (2007) attempt was and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004).
It’s a rare thing to find. And an even rarer thing to define. It’s that feeling we get when a lightness settles in our stomach. Or when the world around us begins to fade. Or as silence falls over a crowded cinema. It is the instant we go from watching a good film, to watching a great film. Great films are not the type to simply occupy our minds for two hours, or throw as much action our way as we can possibly handle (I’m looking at you here Michael Bay). They are instead the types of films that stand the test of time, define generations, and leave us wanting more. Those that every director, every studio, every audience member, strives to create, facilitate, and consume. They are the defining moments of the film industry.
Such great films however, do not happen often. Part of what makes great films so, is that they are like the proverbial needle in the haystack. They are the glory at the end of the very long and hay-fever induced search. Like the movies themselves, it’s never any fun if it’s simple, right? But what then makes a film great instead of good? In a world filled with expanding knowledge, personal opinion and varying tastes, it is easy to say that everyone’s a critique and that nobody can agree. Personal opinions will always vary, and decidedly so, greatness is after all in the eye of the beholder. That is not to say however, that there are not common threads that are weaved through great films, setting them apart from the everyday splash of colour and sound on screen.
Great films are great for one main reason. Whilst they presuppose the features of any good film – quality acting, beautiful cinematography, evocative music, intelligent and eloquent script writing, and focus in story and direction, they elevate this in one important way. Great films make us believe. They make us believe in the director; in how their vision, insight, and choices have led to something so beautiful, so important, that it leaves us slightly breathless in its wake. Spielberg did it with Jurassic Park (1993), and Jaws (1975), just as Nolan did with The Dark Knight (2008) and Inception (2010). You don’t become a world-renowned director on the back of good films. They make us believe in the characters too. How their trials, tribulations, happiness’ and success' can mirror our own. Good films tell us characters are important to the plotline, fill space, and are used to tell us what we ‘should want to be’, instead of ‘what we can be’. Great films, well, they make us root for the characters, they make us trust them when they are deceitful, or doubt them when they are not. They make us understand them as if they were our best friend, sibling, parent, or child. Great films make us believe in the reality of the character, instead of simply in their reason for existing.
But most importantly of all, great films make us believe in their world. The story, the cuts, the setting, the sounds. How all of it blurs and gathers together, in exactly the right way and at exactly the right time, to allow ourselves to get lost within it. Great films are not made by their realism alone, but instead by their believability. Realism in the sense of the story-line can only take us so far. I mean God help us if computers ever take over like in the Terminator series, or if scientists find the means to reinstate dinosaurs into the food chain, a la Jurassic Park (1993) (thank-you DNA half-life!). Believability instead lies in the essence of life, not in its imitation of it. And that’s what makes films great. Without belief, we would never travel to worlds like Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, Lucas’ Star Wars or Abram’s Star Trek. We would never understand the Navi’s way of life in Avatar (2009), enter the Matrix, eagerly await our Hogwarts Letter, or cry at Mufasa’s death in The Lion King (1994). We would never dread the opening of the box in Se7en (1995), or the long walk down The Green Mile (1999). We would never quote the rules about Fight Club (1999), or understand how life is like a box of chocolates. Without belief we would never be a part of films, we would simply be a watcher of them.
Any good critic will argue that great movies contribute something to the medium of film, that they demand to be watched again and again, that they make important statements which make you think about your life instead of just live it. They aren’t wrong. But any great critic knows that the true distinction in creating a great film lies in how a viewer believes in it so much, that they let themselves become a part of it. After all, great movies are lived, not watched. And it’s hard to live something without believing in it first. As Tim Burton once said: “Certain things leave you in your life and certain things stay with you. And that's why we're all interested in movies - those ones that make you feel, that you still think about. Because it gave you such an emotional response, it's actually part of your emotional make-up, in a way.”
The Art of Thinking About Films
What makes a great film? How do you survive a horror film? Which movies deserve to be in Top Ten lists? This is the place to discuss that.
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