Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
I’ve already seen more great films this year than in the entirety of last year, but 2008 can’t really take the credit – pretty much all of them came out in 2007 in the US. The films I expected to love turned out to be merely good, and the films I had little hope of enjoying, I loved. I’m at the stage now where I don’t think anyone can agree with me even on just these seven films, let alone my increasingly bizarre viewing history.
There Will Be Blood: I’m not sure I could say I enjoyed this. People who haven’t seen it keep asking me what it’s like. What’s it like? It’s a masterpiece. It’s an extraordinary piece of cinema, a phenomenal performance, a work of art. Did I like it? No, not really.
I’m just not that interested in cinema, or performances, or art. I was gripped all the way through, and as critics have said, what’s exciting about it is that you have no idea where it’s going. But by the end – which is macabre, surreal, comic, and utterly sick – I just thought “Oh. Nowhere, then.”
No Country For Old Men: This I did enjoy, a lot, but I still choke on my popcorn whenever someone calls it the Coens’ best. Are we talking about the same Coens? The Fargo, Lebowski, Fink, O Brother, Hudsucker Coens? Maybe there are other Coens.
Again, it’s extraordinarily cinematic and artistically beautiful in a whole set of ways I don’t care about. What I did love about its direction was the fetishistic attention to detail: the sweeping black scuff-marks on the police station floor from the cop thrashing as he choked, the burn-splatters around close-range gunshot-wounds when they’re stripped bare for treatment, the way one character’s fate is only communicated to us by whether or not another checks the soles of his shoes.
It’s also probably the most excruciatingly tense thriller I’ve ever seen – there are long scenes where you know precisely what will happen, but not precisely when, and I felt like I lost years of my heart-healthy life to each.
What I liked most about it was that it felt like how a thriller premise would play out in the real world: the major plot events are determined by brutal, random chance that doesn’t bias the hero or villain, and when a character dies, it’s not always a poetic defeat at the hands of his nemesis.
But unlike most of its fans, I didn’t think the ending was profound or interesting. I get it. I got it a while back. I got it from the title of the movie. I didn’t need the credits to roll on some absurd symbolic chin-stroking introspection to tell me what the point of the film was.
Gone Baby Gone: This absolutely deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the above two, but rarely is. It’s a noir private-detective thriller starring Casey Affleck, who is a dramatically better actor than Ben in both sense of the word; and directed by Ben, who is a dramatically better director than actor, again in both senses.
It revolves around a missing child, and the length and breadth of dilemma they mine from that scenario is alarming. It culminates in a decision so tough that you’re left with no idea who you’re rooting for, even as it tears all the good guys apart. That’s the hardest part of noir to achieve: true moral ambiguity, a situation so sticky it’s no longer clear who’s doing the right thing. Gone has a resolution of sorts, but it’s so hard won that it feels sobering rather than victorious.
Charlie Wilson’s War: Very much liked this, but given that it was written by Aaron Sorkin and prominently featured Seymour Hoffman, I’d expected to love it. Hoffman is superb – a whole film about his character rather than Hanks’ would have been magnificent. I just didn’t care all that much about Wilson’s private life, or Roberts’ character’s subplot, and those took up a lot of the running time.
Knocked Up: This is the only one I did see last year, twice in fact. It’s the funniest I’ve seen in ages, and emotionally honest with it. The premise is cheap – “Ha ha what if an ugly guy got you pregnant? Lol.” – but then the film never flinches from the awkward, unhappy consequences of that.
It pays for that poster by having to tackle a really hard question: what do you do if it’s not working out but there’s a kid? And it doesn’t dodge it by having them magically turn out to be soulmates or by killing off the baby (you laugh, but it’s been done). It actually gives an answer, comes out and says “This unhappy compromise is slightly less unhappy than the other unhappy compromises.”
Also, lol. Jack and Jill – the network executives who alternately congratulate and neurotically demean Katherine Heigl’s character – are worth the ticket price alone. And the weird, slight-too-friendly relationship between Seth Rogen’s character and Paul Rudd’s – the only real soul-mates of the film – just gets funnier and funnier. There’s also a lot of good relationship philosophy, meditations on chairs, a fantastic performance from a kid, and the seriousness of Steve Martin vehicles. In fact, quotes:
“Marriage is like a tense, unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond, only it doesn’t last 22 minutes. It lasts forever.”
“Oh, Matthew Fox? The Lost guy? You know what’s interesting about him?”
“Where do babies come from?”
“Where do you think they come from?”
“Well. I think a stork, he umm, he drops it down and then, and then, a hole goes in your body and there’s blood everywhere, coming out of your head and then you push your belly button and then your butt falls off and then you hold your butt and you have to dig and you find the little baby.”
“That’s exactly right.”
Dan In Real Life: I don’t even know why I saw this, the best I’d heard was that it wasn’t as bad as it might seem. That’s true; it’s wonderful.
It’s so damn hard to make me care about a character, let alone root for them, but Dan (Steve Carrell) treads a tightrope between pathetic victim and jerk that just about keeps him clear of either – a rare feat.
Each time it builds excruciating emotional tension, it doesn’t so much diffuse it with humour as release it in a controlled explosion. I’m sure most of the things I laughed weren’t funny at all, the script just has an uncanny knack for poking me in the ribs when I’m most vulnerable.
Like Knocked Up, it takes a really tricky mess of plot points and doesn’t shy away from picking a line of best-fit through them, but its unflinching acceptance of the consequences of that doesn’t hold up all the way to the end. There’s just one, brief, tired old trope for resolving a love triangle that they roll out towards the end to keep everyone happy, and it does marr the otherwise impressive awkwardness of the whole ordeal.
Bee Movie: What the hell? Why did everyone tell me this sucked? I caught this on a plane, because one person of five had told me it was ‘okay’. It was great! I laughed ten times more than I did during Ratatouille, none of the characters were anything like as annoying, and it was actually rather original. There’s a bit where Jerry Seinfeld bee flies repeatedly into the same pane of glass about ten times before stopping, looking at it for the first time and muttering, “Oh that is just diabolical.”
Enchanted: I really thought I would loathe this, and I didn’t. It’s about a Disney princess who comes to life, so you can imagine what else was on the plane that I ended up watching it. But it’s sort of almost halfway charming. All I’d seen before was a clip of that awful “That’s How You Know” song on the Oscars, which Once rightly pounded into the dust and snatched the award from. But when that number actually came around in the film, with the slightly absurd way it starts, and the reggae buskers – I tried not to smile and was unsuccessful.
Kenny: Have to agree with almsot everything here - I found Bee Movie pretty boring and haven't seen Charlie Wilson's War. No Country For Old Men was superior in entertainment value to There Will Be Blood, but they were both amazing pieces of cinema. Enchanted I didn't think I was going to like, but my sister made me see it, was surprisingly enjoyable!
Dan: I thought I "got" No Country, but it was totally anti-climactic. Even if I did get it I wouldn't have been thinking it was as great as it was. I thought it was a fantastic little thriller up to the obvious bit where the attention and pace of the film totally changes.
I'll have to say There Will Be Blood was the better film though. From start to finish I was having great fun. But I can understand why someone wouldn't like it, it is a film for cinema fans I would say. The composition and lighting was enough at times to keep me going...
Lukasa: I feel let down that Juno isn't on the list: did you not get around to seeing it?
Ayan: Speaking of Casey Affleck, have you seen The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and did you like it?
I hadn't heard about, or maybe hadn't had my attention drawn to Gone Baby Gone, but now you've got me interested.
Tom Francis: Supplemental!
Juno: It's like a character from an incredibly cool film wandered into a really twee one. The soundtrack is unrelentingly precious (and therefore almost entirely great) and the direction is pure saccharine, but the protagonist is almost belligerantly blasÃ©, fluently funny and often outright mean. The clash is completely charming: the sappy trappings filter a hard character through soft light, which stops them feeling mawkish and her from becoming dislikable. I wish other writers realised that when you have a pregnant character, her pregnancy doesn't have to be the only thing about her.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: I get so much more out of historical films by not knowing any history - if it wasn't for the title, I wouldn't have even known he was going to get shot. Even with it, I had no idea how he would die or if Ford would survive. Even in the scene where it finally becomes clear it's going to happen, the tension is almost unbearable.
I rarely like Brad Pitt's characters, since he's usually cast as men apparently so pretty that they need do nothing to incur the adoration and admiration of all around. So he's a familiar but appropriate fit for a cousin-marrying serial killer inexplicably beloved by the nation he terrorised.
But Casey Affleck steals it, as much for the wonkily grinning fidget of a character he plays as his actual performance of it. He's compelling to watch mostly because of the fierce vein of pride running beneath his meek doting - which, of course, is what turns him from fan to assassin. It's a truly bizarre story - I had no idea his killer went on to perform the assassination on stage night after night for years.
The film suggests James' death was more of an assisted suicide than a murder - knowing nothing I'm not sure if that's based on some evidence or entirely speculative. Either way it's a slightly less interesting story for it: it leaves James an unflappable and untouchable cipher to whom nothing happens without his consent. To me he's more interesting if his success allows him to believe a little too easily in this adoring fan, to accept his devotion as granted and miss that it has soured.
Regardless, it's intensely atmospheric, fascinating and often funny, and the climactic scene is as tense as No Country's most heart-pounding pauses. Despite the foregone conclusion. Also: Nick Cave!
Zeno Cosini: Totally agree about The Assassination of Jesse James. Speaking of Nick Cave, did you see The Proposition? I thought it was fantastic. He wrote the script as well as the score, and it starts with one of the most grimly logical gunfights since the one at the climax of LA Confidential.
Iain: To be fair about the ending of No Country For Old Men, that is exactly how the book ends...
Overall, I thought it was terrific - Bardem fully deserved his Oscar - and it was easily the best thing the Coens have done since The Man Who Wasn't There, but I agree in that it's not as good as a lot of their early output. (The Big Lebowski, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink to name just a few) Still, I hope they make more films like that and fewer like Intolerable Cruelty.
Zephyrtr0n: I really liked Enchanted. It made me feel like a princess.
Jazmeister: I properly loved enchanted, and showed it to everyone, laughing out loud and all that mess. "Giselle?! We shall be married in the morning!"
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Half Loaf 2: I disagree with your Opinion on 'There Will Be Blood'. It has a Beautiful score by Johnny Greenwood and like Mark Kermode Said 'It redefines the language of modern cinema'. However for the rest I agree apart from 'A Bee Movie'. It sells itself as movie for children and it just makes adult jokes. For Instance, How many 5 year olds Know What Sue Means. In the mean time It's Oscar season so a whole flock of film are out that you should go see. EG; Slumdog Millionaire, Changeling and The Wrestler. Enjoy 2009!
PS: I am going to see Architecture in Helsinki on the sixth of February