Ahoy, squirts! Quint here to introduce Latauro as he runs through his memories of 2005... He goes over films, events, controversies and ends with his Top 10 list. It's a bit weird to see some of the picks that came out last year here in a States (or in Korea for that matter) in the list, but you know how them Aussies are... a little behind, but full of passion. hehe.
I don't think I'm going to bombard you with my own Top 10 list... I hate doing them and I really don't think you want to go through another big article on one, but I will say that some of my favorite flicks (off the top of my head) from the year, in no particular order, are: BATMAN BEGINS, WAR OF THE WORLDS, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, THE CONSTANT GARDENER, MATCH POINT, MUNICH, KING KONG, THE NEW WORLD, WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, HUSTLE & FLOW, CAPOTE, BROKEN FLOWERS, SIN CITY, GOOD NIGHT & GOOD LUCK, HARRY POTTER & THE GOBLET OF FIRE, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, WOLF CREEK, THE DESCENT, CHUMSCRUBBER, WEATHER MAN and a few that'll hit theaters next year, Sundance favorite BRICK and V FOR VENDETTA. That's nowhere near a complete list, but better here than in a long drawn out article, no? What are you favorites? Read through Latauro's list and let us know what you liked this year in the talkbacks below!
THE AICN-DOWNUNDER ANNUAL 2005
Another year gone. They're getting quicker, I swear. It seems like barely twelve months ago, I was writing the 2004 edition. Hm.
I've had a pretty good year, personally and professionally. There's a lot of professional stuff I'm pacing back and forth about at the moment (waiting for *that* phone call is the hardest part), but on the whole it's been pretty good. There were too many days where I was working twenty hours straight, running from job to job, and yet somehow I managed to fit in films running into the hundreds. You gotta prioritise, right?
In Australia, it's been a pretty interesting year for local product. We had a lot of success with WOLF CREEK, LOOK BOTH WAYS, THE PROPOSITION, LITTLE FISH, THREE DOLLARS, THE MAGICIAN and THE OYSTER FARMER. A lot of people were claiming these films had saved the Australian film industry, but as I pointed out in this column, we have no industry. It took me a long time to figure out, but the more I thought about what was wrong with our industry, the more I realised that an industry, by definition, promotes growth and builds upon what has come before. What we have in Australia is people with money throwing darts at a dart board. This year just happened to see more bullseyes than usual.
Midway through the year I discussed a massive conflict of interest regarding Project Greenlight Australia. Like everyone else, I was hoping this would be a success and lead to one more film per year getting off the ground. It turned out that one of the judges, Sam Worthington (one of Australia's most-employed actors), was friends with the winner, Morgan O'Neill. The publicist for PGA claimed this wasn't a conflict of interest. I claimed it was the dictionary definition of "conflict of interest". The problem was, once I yelled "J'accuse!" and they responded with "Bugger off!", there wasn't much more I could report on. There was nothing new to the story, so short of repeating myself, there was nothing I could do but let it die. The thing that saddened me was that nobody else in the Australian media wanted a piece of it. Nobody else reported on it. It might not have been the biggest story of the year, but I think it was certainly worth some coverage. It made me a little sad that our blinding desire to follow everything that the publicity machine tells us prevented an important story from being told anywhere but here. The articles covering the Greenlight controversy can be found here and here.
Anyway, you came here to see me categorise and rank art, so I'll cut to the chase.
LATAURO'S TEN BEST OF THE YEAR (AS VOTED BY ME)
I can't believe I managed to get this list down to ten. It wasn't easy, you should know (when is it ever easy?). I was forced to leave out very-near-misses such as BROKEN FLOWERS, THE LIFE AQUATIC, SIDEWAYS, KISS KISS BANG BANG, MYSTERIOUS SKIN and THE ARISTOCRATS. (I've just scrolled through my reviews and discovered that A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT and I HEART HUCKABEES were technically this year, but I've already written the below reviews, so they stay out. These lists piss me off sometimes.) Last night I caught the low budget film PRIMER, which probably would go on the list if I'd had more time to digest it. If you've not yet seen it, you haven't experienced what it's like to have your skull squeezed out through your eyes. Really amazing film.
Being the bad movie goer that I am, I missed Australian films LITTLE FISH, LOOK BOTH WAYS, THE MAGICIAN and THE OYSTER FARMER. I haven't seen THE MACHINIST, LAST DAYS or Paul Haggis's CRASH, films that might have made it onto the list. I didn't see STRINGS at the cinema, nor have I watched the DVD that arrived a month ago.
I disagreed with every other critic by loving 9 SONGSand ELEKTRA, and hating 5x2 and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. My relationship with BROKEBACK is a tricky one. Every review I've read has described a film I would absolutely love, so I'm going to give it another go. In a couple of weeks I'll take another look at it, and I'll let you know if my opinion of it changes drastically. It's certainly a film that's given me a lot of grief.
I walked out of WOLF CREEK, not because I didn't like it, but because it was too full-on. I thought it was a terrific film, but I just didn't have the constitution to sit through it. Violence, I can handle. A main character that frightening and cunning, I can't.
I've decided against a "Worst List" this year, partly because of the vitriol that last year's rant inspired ("Mel Gibson hates Jewish people!"), and partly because I didn't see the worst films of the year. I at least make an effort to see as many of the best films (or what I think will be the best films) each year. The worst ones, I try to avoid. I was disappointed by HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE, and not just because of my high expectations. It *was* possible to live up to my hopes of what a HHGTTG could be; this film dropped the ball, big time. It wasn't close to being the worst film of the year, though. The clips I saw of MISS CONGENIALITY 2 actually made me physically ill. The worst film I actually sat through? It's tough. BE COOL was an abomination, as bad as GET SHORTY was good. BROTHERS GRIMM was an embarrassing mess, and IN HER SHOESwas one of the worst scripts of the year. ROBOTS didn't quite scale the depths that SHARK TALE did the year before, but it's certainly one of the laziest kids films I've ever seen. SKY CAPTAIN was a boring missed opportunity, and the French film 5x2 redefined pretension. The worst film of the year, however, has to go to Australian crapfest YOU AND YOUR STUPID MATE. I rarely agree with Melbourne film critic Jim Schembri, but when he wrote "Unreleasable" as his entire review (before writing a secondary review that tore the film to shreds), I couldn't have agreed more. STUPID MATE is barely a film, and the fact that its makers seem to be getting more films made than anyone else in the country should give you an idea of how well we're doing.
Nevertheless, there were some good films this year. There were some very good films. Below is (obviously) my list of the top ten. I've gone on some pretty strange rants down there. If you like reading me go off on tangents then you may enjoy it. If you think I rabbit on too much, just scroll down the titles.
On with the show...
You're going to see the words "vibe", "wavelength" and "socratic" a lot in this list. The first two because they're relevant; the third because I think it's awesome. Hayao Miyazaki makes films in a completely different universe to everyone else, and you're expected to go along with them. Whilst each of his films seems to have the fish-out-of-water character for the audience to identify with, those characters either inhabit worlds totally unfamiliar to us, or adapt far more quickly that we do.
HOWL'S stuck with me more than any other film from the Melbourne International Film Festival this year. I still can't shake the flame creature from my head, or the brilliant simplicity of the changing door, or the way characters morph and change without any real external influence... and we just go along with it.
The version I saw was the Japanese language print, and believe me, it makes the world of difference. My introduction to Miyazaki was seeing the original language print of PRINCESS MONONOKE, which I fell in love with. When I revisited the film, I did so with its English redub (purely for curiosity's sake) and ended up hating the film. That version, anyway. I can't stress how important it is to hear the original voices when you see the film. If you don't believe me, try listening to Phil Hartman as Jiji in KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE.
Miyazaki's films have a very specific wavelength, and if you're on that wavelength you'll see something you won't see anywhere else. And how often can you say that of a film?
Yeah. So sue me.
Speaking of vibes and socratic wavelengths, if you're lucky enough to "get" Joss Whedon, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. For my money, Whedon writes characters, story, dialogue and subtext so effortlessly, you just want to bathe in his work. Effusive? Fannish? Sure. I'm an effusive fan.
There's been so much crap leveled at the so-called Browncoats (although some of it's deserved... seriously, who gave their phone bill a thrashing just so this film could reach the top half of Margaret Pomeranz's best film show on the ABC?), they've almost replaced Trekkies in the derision and scorn department. This departments exists only within fandom, it's important to remember. Your average movie-going public guy dude person has no idea what a Browncoat is, and has probably only heard of "Firefly" in passing from a friend of a friend. I don't know of anyone who was turned off the film by an overenthusiastic fan.
These Browncoats copped a decent amount of blame in some circles for the film's poor box office results, a charge that was as incorrect as it was wrong (now THAT'S English). Simply put, the film did badly because of the sheer amount of pre-release screenings (which would have significantly diminished its opening weekend, the only thing that seems to matter these days) and the awful, awful marketing campaign. Sure, the film is not an easy one to sell, but even I was slightly turned off by the terrible posters and misleading trailers. The film failed in a big way, but it's no more the fault of the fans than it is of the key grip (Jerry C. Deats, you will feel my wrath).
Wait, am I discussing the film's brilliance, or adding to the overcrowded debate on where to point the blame? Clearly, I'm adding to the debate. Feel free to read it again if you're confused.
There's been so much damned press on this film; you don't need to hear any more. Whedon is a goddamn genius, who writes and directs so fucking well that he alone inspires such passion and love in his fans. I've come to terms with the fact that this may be the last outing for the Serenity crew. So long as Whedon is still breathing and near a keyboard, captivating stories will continue to be told.
8. OLD BOY
I jumped up and down when I saw the distinct lack of LADY VENGEANCE on the MIFF screening list this year, and even questioned Festival Director James Hewison about it (apparently the film "wasn't finished"... pfft!). I then waited the year for the film to somehow make its way onto the arthouse circuit. It hasn't. Luckily, I've had the memory of OLD BOY, Chan-Wook Park's best film to date, to last me all year.
I've loved everything Park has made. JOINT SECURITY AREA started off badly before launching into one of the greatest second acts in history (which turned a film I was, at that point, hating into one of my favourites of the year). SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE knocked me onto the floor. His contribution to THREE... EXTREMES was the best of the three films, simultaneously entertaining and disturbing the way no other film has ever been.
But OLD BOY... OLD BOY was Park at the top of his game. He managed to top his previous efforts by coming up with a high concept film that had enormous, stone-hard balls. He deals with subject matter few other "hardened" filmmakers would even be comfortable listening to, and makes sure you know exactly how demented the situation is.
OLD BOY isn't quite as devastating as MR VENGEANCE, nor is it as easily rewatchable as JSA; it does, however, blend those two elements into a perfect mix, making it more than the sum of its parts. This film will wrench you out of your comfort zone and remind you of what cinema can be if you look into the dark recesses of your mind that you try to pretend aren't there.
7. SIN CITY
So, I have three big problems with the film. They are:
1) The pacing. Film noirs, as well as the film's source material, worked at a much slower pace. The film felt rushed; the consequence of trying to cram three great films into one. (My problem with the pacing has dimished *somewhat* after seeing the extended cuts.)
2) HD. I know Rodriguez has a massive hard-on for digital, and part of me admires his cottage industry love of technology. While the HD looked better here than it ever has, it's still not as good as he thinks it is. It doesn't possess the depth and richness of film stock, and the flatness works against it. Why is this such a problem? Again, it's a film noir, and film is sort-of an essential part of it. That said, the cinematography is still very pretty.
3) Jessica Alba. I can forgive the casting of Bruce Willis (he's absolutely brilliant in it, but just doesn't look the age of his character!), but Alba just doesn't work. She doesn't have screen presence. Her acting is sub-par. While I don't find her at all sexy, I'm willing to accept that many do. Nevertheless, Alba's brand of sexy is completely wrong for the character. The sexiest woman in Sin City, the one that every many drools over? I didn't buy it. But more than that, casting her ruined what could have been the most shattering moment of the film. When Hartigan's eyes move to the stage and he sees Nancy dancing, the original comic book depicts her as almost completely naked. She incredibly sexy, and the horror in Hartigan's eyes reflect this. The innocence he ruined his life to protect had been taken away while he was in prison. It could have been one of the rare instances of non-gratuitous nudity that added to the story instead of distracting from it, and it was left out. For such a faithful adaptation, this was mind-blowing to me. Skinny little Nancy Callighan did *not* fill out. She still looks pre-pubescent up there, and the sheer amount of clothing she has on doesn't help that. I was a big fan of the Carla Gugino nudity, but would have traded it in a heart-beat for the far-more-important Moment in THAT YELLOW BASTARD.
Phew. It feels good to get that off my chest. Er, again.
I spent an awful lot of time describing what Rodriguez did wrong in a film that I consider to be one of the top ten of the year, didn't I? That's because it's so close to being perfect that I can actually name the elements that keep it from being that way. For me, anyhow.
We are all so blaze and desensitised by visual effects, I don't think anyone really took the time to appreciate what a visual phenomenon the film was. Cinema is all about creating moving worlds we wouldn't otherwise see. Miyazaki does it, but pencil and paper can do anything. To put real-life actors in a photorealistic setting and make us believe it for two hours plus, you have to know what you're doing.
I ate up every frame, and fell madly in love with the world presented to me. So why did this work where SKY CAPTAIN failed? SKY CAPTAIN promised edgy 30s-style dialogue, and dropped the ball. It promised a great story told amongst kitchy retro backdrops and forgot the great story. SIN CITY had the advantage of Frank Miller's superb source material that does for gritty film noir what PULP FICTION did for, well, pulp fiction. It acts as a summation for why the genre is great, but is also greater than the sum of its parts. It manages to eclipse the very style it's celebrating.
The cast is (with odd exception) spot-on. This is the role Mickey Rourke was born to play. He perfectly inhabits the skin of a character I never thought they'd get right. Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, Clive Owen and the brilliant Benicio Del Toro each nails their role home with perfect precision. The big surprise? I never thought I'd type this sentence, but one of my favourite performances of the year goes to Brittany Murphy as Shellie. Not afraid to make herself look silly, Murphy completely overplays the breathless heroine to amazing comic effect, and gave me the biggest laughs of the film.
The detail and precision with which Basin City is recreated makes me yearn for this type of creativity in other films. I know it's hoping for too much, but can you blame me? Rodriguez and Miller are guilty of spoiling me completely and raising my expectations high. Possibly too high. I yearn for SIN CITY 2, and the I-can't-believe-they-haven't-done-it-yet merchandising of Jackie Boy Pez Dispensers.
6. HOTEL RWANDA
The first half of the year basically saw us film fans sitting around watching our DVDs and waiting for the truly cool shit to hit us come Winter (that's "Summer" for those of you hemispherically north). Luckily those of us in Australia got all the Oscar stuff we hadn't got over Summer. See, they wait to see how the awards do before beginning their marketing campaign in we, the "Other Territories".
So, during that usually-dry first-half-of-the-year, I was treated to a remarkable film experience that has stayed with me longer than I'd anticipated. If you missed HOTEL RWANDA because it doesn't have the geek appeal that usually draws us to cinemas, then you've done yourself a great disservice. You've missed the most perfectly-scripted film of the year. One that manages to tell an horrific true story without (a) overwhelming the audience, or (b) diminishing the event's importance.
I can't talk about the film's subject matter and do it justice (believe me; this is the umpteenth time I've attempted to write this paragraph), so I'll leave it to you to see the film on your own. What I can talk about is the note-perfect filmmaking. All the horrific elements are shown without gloss. Light moments are interjected at perfect places, and manage to relief us from the horror without diminishing what came before. It's phenomenal filmmaking that's only enhanced by Don Cheadle, one of the greatest working actors in the world, transforming completely into a character that's not a hero, but a human doing heroic deeds. Unmissable.
5. WAR OF THE WORLDS
One of the least interesting things in the world to me is tabloid gossip. I don't care who is dating who. I don't care whose marriage broke up because of which adopted baby, or which nanny cheated on which star. I just don't care. I've never met these people. Now, I'm interested in the lives of people I admire, the Whedons, the Sorkins and the Soderberghs of the world, because I'm fascinated as to how someone with such a fast amount of talent can get to that stage where most everything they create is effortlessly brilliant. That said, if Soderbergh divorced a "Friends" castmember to shack up with one of the teens from "The OC", I just wouldn't give a damn. And I'm an avid viewer of both shows.
So where am I going with this? I watched the Australian "Sixty Minutes" interview with Tom Cruise this year because I'd hoped that they'd be forced to discuss the process of making a film like WAR OF THE WORLDS or MAGNOLIA. I thought a show that claims to have so much more integrity than the rest would, at very least, make a show of delving into substance. I was wrong. Interviewer Peter Overton asked questions about Cruise's love life, and was told to "put his manners back in" by the Cruiser. Apparently, Overton was stepping over the line by asking about the one subject Cruise can't shut up about: Cruise.
See, like most people in the world, I'm sick of Tom Cruise. And I say this as someone who avoids tabloids, Entertainment Tonight, Oprah, etc. Now, if I'm avoiding all of this stuff and *I'm* sick of him, imagine how the rest of you must feel! Yeah, you. The one who checks the Celebrity Briefing on IMDb so you can laugh at glamour couples having the same problems you do. Or, rather, the same problems your older brother has. The cool one.
WAR OF THE WORLDS is an amazing film, and time will tell if it's Spielberg's best (my mailman is already anticipating the hate mail for that comment, so do your worst). Okay, so maybe that should read "...if it's Spielberg's best non-SCHINDLER film". There's a reason that Spielberg is a household name, a reason that's he's the most famous filmmaker in history. Look at the opening of WORLDS and the tension created there. Look at the scene where they're trying to get in the car. Look at the basement scene with Tim Robbins (the highlight of the movie) and tell me Spielberg's not every bit the filmmaker every Joe Schmoe unthinkingly acknowledges him to be.
While part of me still wishes he'd gone the period piece-route, it's no longer a specific problem I have when I watch the film. Like all great stories, it works perfectly on its own and perfectly as a parable. The film is such a powerful analogy for the world as it is now, that it deserves to be studied for decades to come. It's one of the most important films of the decade, and it really should be higher on the list.
Why, then, is it not? Tom Cruise is a fantastic actor, and I've no doubt of his abilties, but his face is so phenomenally over-saturated that I just can't take it any more. There are a few moments during the basement scene where he disappears into his characters, but those moments are few in the context of the film. The rest of the time, he's Tom Cruise in a baseball hat, and I do not believe him. I have no problem in casting stars, but cast someone whose life isn't a movie playing out in every form of media on the planet. Matt Damon's a great actor and a marketable star, isn't he? I have no idea who he's dating, or if he's married, or not. The only times I see him are in films or talking about films, and that's fine. Okay, so he may not be suited to the role, but the point remains valid. Cruise only works in films like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, where he may as well be called "Tom" on screen. Films like WAR OF THE WORLDS are too important, too great to be dragged down by an oversaturated celebrity.
Just to make sure I end on a positive note, WAR OF THE WORLDS is a great film, and Spielberg is a great director. And that's that.
I'm one of those guys who sort-of likes Tim Burton, but finds him incredibly overrated. Of course, as a teenager, I loved him, just as every teen does when he first learns what directors do and what their names are. Then I came crashing down to Earth. It wasn't even PLANET OF THE APES that did it, awful as it was. It was BIG FISH. Here was an opportunity for layers and depth, and it was pretty much squandered so Burton could make another surface-level quirky film that *looks* like a modern-day fairy tale, but lacks the deeper meaning those stories always had. It was then that I looked back over his work with grown-up eyes, and few of his films stood up. His BATMAN films certainly didn't.
See, I really enjoy his two BATMAN films. Hell, the deluxe four-film box set is shipping from Amazon as I write this. The thing is I like them as Tim Burton films. In that sense, they're very good and very entertaining... but they're not Batman.
Christopher Nolan was an inspired choice for the role, mostly because he lacks the heavy signature flourishes that burdens so many of Burton's films. Nolan simply steps back and makes great films, and for the first time I felt like I was immersed completely in the real-life Batman world.
The big, sweeping master strokes were brilliant. The cast, for example, were fantastic, with the glaring exception of Katie Holmes. The only female role in the film, and they surround a roll call of phenomenal actors with a magazine cover. Holmes in BEGINS; Alba in SIN CITY. A trend is forming. Holmes is the only problem I have with the film. Her singular expression and lazy delivery left her character flat and sucked the spark out of every scene she appeared in. Fortunately, Bale saved the day (so to speak) with a representation of Batman that has left every other for dead (except Kevin Conroy's!). The way he chose to play Batman was incredibly risky, but made him into an actual character instead of an empty figurine. Likewise, Caine proved he wasn't stunt casting, and nailed the role of Alfred like no other. Gotham itself looked like a real city; this fact somehow enhancing its fantastical nature.
As enthralled as I was by these "big things", it's the smaller ones that made the film for me. The genuine moments of humour between Alfred and Bruce (particularly on the plane). The business dealings needed to get the cowl shipped in without anyone noticing, and then the design glitch forcing them to re-order. Gordon taking the trash out. All of these small trivial things made me believe the world, and believing the world made this the most effective Batman to date.
Having only just reviewed this film a week or two back, I'm not sure if I have anything new to say about it. The subject matter, the screenplay, the direction, the actors, it's all fantastic. It's all perfect.
One thing I've noticed recently is that with the decline of honest, truthful journalism, the feelings of frustration felt by those seeking honesty and transparency has led to something of a surge in art and media. There are countless examples of this, but perhaps the most incisive has been GOOD NIGHT. The film so succinctly explains why asking questions is important whilst showing the danger and humanity in a mob mentality, that it's impossible to dismiss it. It's impossible to accuse it of being propaganda, as the film triumphs nothing more than honesty and thoughtfulness.
There are few films from this year that I would recommend more. In fact, there are only two.
2. THE PROPOSITION
This is the sort of film that gets made when bullshit political agendas, wanky pretentious filmmaking and focus group screenplays are ignored and true artists take the reigns.
THE PROPOSITION has a unique voice. It's not slamming home the fact that it's Australian; it just accepts the fact. We're not treated to any sort of ponderous history lesson; the film's story takes place against the backdrop of Australia's past. It's a slice of life from an early period of British colonialism, and whatever conclusions we reach are our own.
No, writer Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat cleverly focus on the story the are telling... and that story is a corker.
Guy Pearce plays a man whose only hope of saving his younger brother is to kill his older brother. The irony of the situation is never played up. The tragedy of the situation is barely referred to. In fact, the film is so alarmingly subtle, that when it hits you right between the eyes you won't know where the punch came from.
I've casually referred to this film as Australia's version of DEAD MAN, but I acknowledge that the comparison does a disservice to both DEAD MAN and THE PROPOSITION. This is a truly unique film that I hope gets the recognition it deserves. At very least, it has won the honour of replacing Clara Law's amazing GODDESS OF 1967 as my favourite ever Australian film.
1. KING KONG
Okay, this is the big one. This is the review I've been gearing up for. You know those articles Harry writes where he details how a filmmaker or film had a profound influence on a very important period of his life? This is me doing that.
The first memory I have is of the first film I saw. Ever. It was on the big screen, and it was the 1933 production of KING KONG. My clearest memory is having to go out to the foyer for a few minutes because it was scaring me, but the film itself must have left quite the impression on me. See, my parents would frequently take me to the house of family friend George Viscas, whose film collection left me awed, even at that age. George was, and is, an early adopter, and I remember being shown a laser disc years before I heard the name mentioned anywhere else. The nights my family would visit, there would be the kids' film that my brother and I would watch while the parents talked in the other room. Following that would be a film George was itching to show my parents. With all of this overwhelming film information flooding into me (and, undoubtedly, having a profound effect on me), what could I not get out of my head? Kong.
Now, I've decidedly avoided corroborating any of this with my parents or George, because I'm influenced by my memories more than the slight details that separate them from the facts. What I remember is constantly drawing pictures of King Kong whenever I had a pen and paper. I'd also get mum and dad to draw pictures for me that I could colour in, because they were so much better at the buildings that I was. Without quite knowing why, I was obsessed for years with this giant ape climbing a building.
Now, the influence this film also had on Peter Jackson is, by now, notorious. You know it all by now. As much as I loved LORD OF THE RINGS (and trust me, the love is deep and palpable), I wasn't sure if he'd be able to get this right. On the surface of it, KONG is an easier film to make that RINGS, but once I saw FELLOWSHIP, I knew he'd be able to knock Tolkein's trilogy out of the park without hesitation. KONG, in my mind, was such a magical and untouchable thing, I honestly didn't know whether he'd make a Very Good Peter Jackson Version of KONG, or whether he'd actually make KONG itself.
Jackson has somehow managed to make the film that sits inside your head. You know that feeling when you revisit an old film and you're waiting for that specific bit you loved because to you it was the most profound moment in the film and then when you get to there it either doesn't exist or it's blink-and-you-miss-it fast? Jackson has put those moments on film.
The reason we spend so long in the first act getting to Skull Island is because he's reveling in the world. He's swimming in it. The magic doesn't just exist on Kong Island; it exists in 1930s New York. A city in the throes of a Depression that doesn't realise what's about to be unleashed upon it. Establishing the World of Man is deeply important, because it's the villain. It's almost as if the hero and villain roles are reversed in this film, with we, the audience, following the bad guy as he tracks a giant monster (the good guy). It's amazing stuff, and for all the complaints about how long it was, I could personally stand to see more. But that's me. When I see something I love this much, I just want more of it.
The humans are all terrific, but it's Carl Denham that blew me away. The path they went down with him was an intriguing one, and only emphasised the awful behaviour the human race exhibits in this film. His re-used obituaries for his fallen crew are almost word-for-word identical, yet each had the opposite effect on me and my opinion of him. I actually prefer Black's character to Robert Armstrong's, and while part of me feels I'm committing cinematic blasphemy, I honestly think this film more than stands up to its predecessor.
KING KONG is more than just a film for critics, or movie geeks, or action lovers. My girlfriend was in tears at the end (as was the girl on the other side of her, a friend of ours, who was devastated by the thing), and she is in no way a film buff. Getting her to come with me to the cinema or sit through a DVD is a challenge in itself (we actually do have other things in common, if you're wondering... a mutual adoration of me, for starters), and she only came to KONG because a dozen of us were going and she was up for the social aspect of it. In watching the film, we could not have had two more different expectations, and yet it hit us both in almost the same way. You can't help but shed a tear at the end. You can't help but pity the poor, dumb animal who was in no way responsible for the devastation he unleashed.
Our main character is a giant ape, and yet it's the most human story we've seen in years.
The cast is perfect, from Naomi Watts, who could not have been more perfectly suited to her role. Adrian Brody looked exactly like he should be a 1930s action star. Jack Black looked exactly like he should be a 1930s film director (my house mate pointed out why: he's the spitting image of bloody Welles).
The cinematography, the "rushed" score, the production design and the effects are all at absolute top-notch. This is a film you use to show everyone working with their A game. The screenplay is close to flawless. The direction is... well, mind-blowing. Jackson, in making a film purely for himself, has made a film that is many, many notches better than it deserves to be. No monster/action B-flick should have this much depth and humanity, but here it is.
For two and a half years, I've dined out on the fact that my first big scoop was breaking the news that Jackson would definitely be making KONG (my scoop can be found here -- and the glorious confirmation here). It's pretty satisfying to finally see it come to fruition. For the fourth time in three years, Jackson has made my hands-down favourite film of the year. There is most definitely life beyond RINGS, and undoubtedly life beyond KONG, too.
So, there it is. An Australian film at number two, and a (mostly) New Zealand film at number one. (I didn't plan it that way, incidentally, it's just something I noticed as I was wrapping up the KONG review). It's a nice year to be writing this column.
I hope you all have an excellent new year, and let us pray that 2006 is one of those years we talk about in hushed tones for years afterwards. A year where every week sees at least one new film that blows us away in some capacity.
Happy new year,