Monday, 17 July 2017

R.I.P. George A. Romero

Heard the sad news this morning. The legendary director George A. Romero has died at the age of 77. One of the great icons of Horror and American Independent cinema, I've been a huge fan of his work since my teenage years. He made many great films starting with his extraordinary debut, the classic zombie film Night of the Living Dead (1968) and its various sequels.

Subsequent features include the suburban witchcraft tale Season of the Witch (1972), paranoia/contagion chiller The Crazies (1973), the remarkable modern vampire tale Martin (1978 - my own personal favourite), cult oddity Knightriders (1981) - which he regarded as his most personal film, the EC comic-style anthology Creepshow (1982) on which he collaborated with fellow Horror legend Stephen King, suspense tale Monkey Shines (1988) and the revenge thriller Bruiser (2000).

His career had many setbacks. He had a fraught relationship with Hollywood studios over unrealised projects - including a Poe adaptation with Isabella Rossellini and rejected scripts for new versions of The Mummy and Resident Evil that would be eventually made by other hands. There was a long period of inactivity during the 1990s where he spent most of the decade in development Hell and would only make one feature (1993's The Dark Half) which created a frustrating gap in his filmography. Despite his fondness for the genre and his cult following he was never able to escape his being typecast as a 'Horror director', to his occasional frustration. His last 3 films (Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2009)) were all returns to the zombie series that made his reputation. They allowed him the free-reign and creative control that he fought hard to maintain throughout his career.

I got a chance to see Romero in London at the UK premiere of Land of the Dead in 2005 and it was a huge thrill. I still feel that film has never got its due recognition and was ahead of its time with its focus on growing inequality and social divides in the 21st century. He brought humour, satire, thought provoking social commentary and a sharp and distinctive eye for human frailties to his films. Discovering his output in the early years of my cinephilia was a huge deal for me and more than any other filmmaker made me aware of the vast possibilities of Horror cinema. I really felt like I'd found a kindred spirit through his work.

A fearless maverick, an undisputed icon and a true inspiration. Thank you George Romero for the incredible body of work and the indelible impression it has left on me and countless other filmgoers.

R.I.P. George A. Romero (1940-2017)

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century

The New York Times published this list recently although I'm still uncertain what the justification was, besides being roughly 1/6 of the way through the current century. Needless to say it drew quite a response. A recent critics poll by the BBC also came under a lot of scrutiny. At least with that list I considered the top 2 films (Mulholland Drive and In the Mood for Love) to be sound choices.

With all the innovations that cinema has undergone in recent times and the rules changing about what constitutes a "film" I'm often disappointed by the conservatism of large parts of the critical establishment and movie going public. While I like quite a few of the titles that the New York Times chose (Spirited Away, White Material, The Gleaners & I, A Touch of Sin) much of the selection seems to have been made based on a rather rigid view of what constitutes great cinema.

As a response I put together a list of my 25 selections. For the sake of variety I only allowed one title per director as some of my favourite filmmakers (Michael Mann, Johnnie To, Terrence Malick, Kiyoshi Kurosawa) have produced several outstanding works in recent times that when combined could easily take up more than half the list.

1. Pulse (2001, Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
2. Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann)
3. The New World (2005, Terrence Malick)
4. The Wind Rises (2013, Hayao Miyazaki)
5. Tomorrow We Move (2004, Chantal Akerman)
6. Lights in the Dusk (2006, Aki Kaurismaki)
7. Sparrow (2008, Johnnie To)
8. Battle Royale (2000, Kinji Fukasaku)
9. Paprika (2006, Satoshi Kon)
10. Yi Yi (2000, Edward Yang)
11. Lourdes (2009, Jessica Hausner)
12. Thirst (2009, Park Chan-wook)
13. Ghosts of Mars (2001, John Carpenter)
14. Arrietty (2010, Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
15. The Duchess of Langeais (2007, Jacques Rivette)
16. 20 30 40 (2004, Sylvia Chang)
17. Dredd (2012, Pete Travis)
18. Two Days, One Night (2014, Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne)
19. 4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011, Abel Ferrara)
20. Memories of Murder (2003, Bong Joon-ho)
21. Things to Come (2016, Mia Hansen-Love)
22. Confessions (2010, Tetsuya Nakashima)
23. TRON: Legacy (2010, Joseph Kosinski) - have to have at least one controversial choice in here.
24. Barbara (2012, Christian Petzold)
25. The Nice Guys (2016, Shane Black)