Top 15 Movies/Top 10 TV Shows
(in no particular order)
Les Miserables. Lacking in directorial creativity, but a solid, soaring epic all the same. I would have enjoyed it more if it had thought more about the novel than the musical, drawing in some of the smaller scenes to add to character development. Anne Hathaway is stunning. Hugh Jackman has the wrong sort of voice for Valjean, but her certainly looks like a convict. Russell Crowe wasn't as bad as everyone said he was.
The Elephant Man. Somewhat predictable, and with few memorable characters besides Merrick and Treves, but still a very moving picture about what it means to be human. Watch it here.
Adam's Apples. This one I hesitated to place on the list. Bizarre, farcical, and littered with obscenities (in Danish), there is, nevertheless, something captivating about this black comedy. Adam is a Neo-Nazi, just released from prison. He's sent to a halfway-house run by Ivan, an optimistic priest who takes blind faith to an extreme. In a play on the book of Job, Ivan is convinced he's at war with the Devil. Adam can see that Ivan is really deluded, and he is determined to convince him of the truth. This film alternates between wildly funny and shockingly dark, often within a few seconds. It's nowhere near theological orthodoxy, but as Jeffrey Overstreet says in his book Through a Screen Darkly, sometimes we need a "holy fool" to remind us of the bizarreness of truth and grace in a world that runs by the principles of brutal nature. Watch a (clean) trailer here.
Arranged. I'd never quite realized how dramatic most actors are until I saw this movie. Every single character in Arranged felt almost disturbingly authentic - they didn't seem to know they were on camera. Despite its status as a light romantic comedy, the unusual method - arranged marriage - made for interesting viewing. Unlike most modern films, it refused to condemn arranged marriage, presenting it as a part of an honored tradition on the parts of both Muslims and Jews. It is somewhat too glowing in its representation of arranged marriage, but compared to our usually Disneyfied view of it, it's a refreshingly new perspective. Watch it here.
Children of Men. Dark and brutal, this film is mainly on here for its Christmas spirit. Yes, I'm aware it's rated R. And I don't mean the Christmas spirit you're thinking of (probably). The Christmas spirit I'm talking about is the one where an entire town's children is slaughtered by a mad king and a trio of refugees flee across the border to an uncertain future, but bearing an indescribable hope. While falling far, far short of the book, I can understand why Alfonso Cuaron made some of the choices he made. P.D. James's original novel wouldn't have adapted well. Taking it on its own terms, it's good, though certainly not perfect.
Tree of Life. Another Terrence Malick film, this is a huge mass of potentially good stuff. In fact, there's so much of it that it finds itself lacking the time to resolve it all. Malick is known for his stream-of-consciousness film making, but this one pushes it a bit far. Of the many plot strands, there was only one that I felt really delivered, the two others that come to mind ending with the thoughts "I don't buy it" and "Why did that story line even happen?" Nevertheless, it's extremely original, and the kids had lovely, authentic Southern accents. The one story that really did capture my interest was powerful and moving. I enjoyed the references to Job.
Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. Though it's not as good as the first film, relying on slapstick and cross-dressing jokes, it was a fun Robert Downey Jr. movie. And Jared Harris was a great Moriarty.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. This German film is a chilling reminder of what it's like to live under a totalitarian government. It is also a welcome highlight to the many Germans that weren't taking Nazism sitting down, among them Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Sophie Scholl's group: The White Rose. Julia Jentsch and Alexander Held are both wonderful actors, and since most of the film features their interactions in a bare room, that's a good thing. It's not exciting, and it moves slowly, but much of the script is pulled directly from the transcripts of the real-life interview, and it's a slow-burn to true drama. Many might find its overt Christianity preachy, but again, it's straight truth; this is exactly how and why it happened. Watch it here.
3:10 to Yuma. Perhaps it's not as good as the original, but since I haven't seen it, I can't say. I loved it, all the same. There were things I would have changed - Evans's spinelessness grew wearing, and the final note did little to relieve the overwhelming violence and moral ambiguity of this vision of the wild west - but I grew to care for the characters, and the action scenes were excellent. The music was great.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Well, I enjoyed it. Don't judge me. While after film one my demand was Kill Radagast, this time it's More Martin Freeman. At least I'm wanting more instead of less. My review here.
Joyeux Noel. A dramatic, cinematic, beautiful French film, the true story a ceasefire in the trenches on Christmas during WWI. While I didn't find myself caring a tremendous amount for the individual characters, the central conceit was tremendously believable as cautious overtures of peace were made between hostile forces. My only complaint would be a brief, marital sex scene that adds nothing to the plot and makes it so I can't let my siblings watch it alone. Watch it here.
Inspector Lewis. Predictable and politically correct, but as a fairly typical whodunit, not bad. Robbie Lewis has always been the Everyman character, and he can't manage to quite charismatic hero. His sidekick, Hathaway, sometimes makes up for it, drawing from a background in theology and occasionally quoting C.S. Lewis (I Approve.)
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Jeremy Brett's Holmes had always struck me as ridiculously dramatic and over the top. Now, after watching a good chunk of episodes, I still think he's ridiculously dramatic and over the top, but I've come to like it. If Michael Kitchen is the master of underacting, Jeremy Brett is the king of overacting. On the other hand, he sometimes has moments of silent tenderness that almost redeem the shouting and dashing around. Of the two , I prefer David Burke's boyish Watson to Edward Hardwicke's more restrained, dour Watson. Watch it here.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Starting off with promise, this show can't quite decide whether it's a kids show or an adult drama. Sometimes, mostly thanks to Clark Gregg, it works. For the first few episodes there's a Hobbitesque lack of real danger, and thus no suspense. Then it switches to a heavier drama, which overall works, forcing the cast to mature, but it's interspersed with casual sexual activity and network cursing. The writing is atrocious. That said - Clark Gregg.
Brideshead Revisited. I seldom say a film is as good as its adapted book, but in this case, while I loved the book, but I might as well have been reading the screenplay for this eleven-hour adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's beautiful novel. There's hardly a scene it cuts. Even walking. And Jeremy Irons narrates most of the prose, so it's nearly a book on tape with pictures. But because of this, watching it right after finishing the book, I found it often boring and slow, so that's why I'd recommend viewing it first (warning: several scenes with nudity). Though...on second thought, I found much of the Christian subtext much more clear in the book, so it's probably best to have a good understanding of that before plunging in. Perfect cast - especially Anthony Andrews as Sebastian (and Aloysius), gorgeous scenery.
Doctor Who - New Series. Despite my philosophical objections, its reliance on Deus ex machina, and the wildly varying quality, Who has its moments. Eccleston's Doctor was my favorite (of the new series, which is all I've watched), since he played him like an adult, and not a man-child, or, as Terry Pratchett said, "an amalgam of Mother Teresa, Jesus Christ...and Tinkerbell." Less Tinker Bell, anyway. As an idea, Who is brilliant. Time travel + space aliens + a hero who never dies. It's always changing. We meet Charles Dickens and Vincent Van Gogh. An assortment of lovely British supporting cast - David Morrissey, Derek Jacobi, etc.
Last of the Summer Wine. This is possibly the funniest show I've seen all year. It's a classic British setup - old folks acting like kids in a small village (a la Waking Ned Devine). Foggy, Clegg, and Compo have to be one of the greatest comic trios of all time. Foggy is a retired military man, with razor sharp instincts, and a dry delivery that's a perfect parody of every soldier Alec Guinness ever played. Compo dresses and looks like a tramp, and has been romancing the rotund, grumpy Nora Batty for years. Clegg, played by the voice of Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit), is an Average Joe just along for the fun. Toss in a clutch of gossipy old ladies, a tightfisted shop owner named Auntie Wainwright, a depressed Charlie Brown-esque old duffer named Smiler, and a pair of adulterers named Howard and Marina who make such an amusing mockery of soap operas that one can't take them seriously, and there's the longest running sitcom in the world.
The Mentalist. Another of the few American shows I watch, this is quite clever, though it ultimately falls into most procedural conventions. Patrick Jane is an ex-psychic. He turned detective on the brutal murder of his family by a serial killer he taunted on his TV show. Like Sherlock Holmes, he's a frequently annoying consultant to the local police. Unlike Holmes, however, most of his quirkiness is somewhat pointless, just quirkiness for quirkiness' sake. Holmes's eccentricity often is part of his investigation, but Jane will sometimes do odd things for no reason but amusement. His desire for revenge on "Red John" is a constant, but rarely evinces itself in a tangible way, which is a bit of a disturbing trend on television - that one can have such a destructive passion and still be a lovable, lighthearted person. I've never watched any of it, but Dexter seems similar in that respect. All the same, Patrick Jane is a fun character, and it's easy to fritter away the time with a few episodes of The Mentalist.
Les Miserables - 10th Anniversary Concert. Over the summer, I've become quite familiar with the various versions of Les Mis. While the new movie was very good, this Valjean/Javert pairing really can't be beat. Colm Wilkinson probably couldn't really lift a cart, but his Bring Him Home is truly the best, and Philip Quast both looks and sounds the part. The rest of the cast is good, and the encore is amazing, but it's really these two that make the show. They're astounding.
Phantom of the Opera - 25th Anniversary Concert. I've mocked this show for years. Partly, I admit, was because my impression of it was a mix between a vague knowledge of the atrocious 2000 movie and cowboy band Riders in the Sky's hilarious parody, Phantom of the Chuckwagon ("Where are the horses? The cattle? The beans?! Don't you wish Andrew Lloyd Webber had been born a cowboy?") The reality was quite different, or it was in some ways. It did have some of the same weaknesses - the 80's rock vibe seemed ridiculous at first, though I eventually got used to it, and it could've used some horses and cattle. But this particular cast is spectacular, taking on not only the music but a tremendous job of acting. I'd always thought the story was indulging the seductiveness of darkness, but in fact it's much more complex than that, as the last fifteen minutes - a piece of riveting drama from which I could hardly tear my eyes - show.
Sorry for the long list - thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet, I've become a thorough cinephile this year.
Next year's list.