The best film of 2011…NOT coming to a cinema near you

January 4, 2012

Let’s start with a negative. I’d just like to put in my usual gripe that the World of Cine in Cheltenham can let human beings down, as multiplexes invariably do. As someone who has an unhealthy obsession with the Kermode and Mayo podcast which reviews all of ‘the week’s new releases’, I’m continually being disappointed by my local cinema deciding not to screen anything but the most commercial blockbusters.

There are films that I have been eager to see, and that have topped critics’ films-of-the-year roundups, but haven’t made it to our beloved Cheltenham Cineworld. The three films that I’m thinking of here are Tyrannosaur, Kill List and The Artist, but there would have been more; I’ve now begun to tune out when listening to reviews of independent films, not because I’m not interested, but because I know they won’t be coming to Cheltenham.

One movie highlight of the year has been on the small screen. Watching Mark Cousins’ incredible documentary series The Story of Film: An Odyssey, I’ve been reminded that films can create a strong emotional impact in so many more ways than by using ‘jaw dropping special effects’ and ‘stunning’ action sequences. The series has reminded me why I love films so much.

So, my new year’s resolution will be to make a note of the great films that get reviewed, but which won’t be coming to the multiplex, then adding said titles to my Lovefilm rental queue six months after they’ve been released.

Having said all that, I’ve really enjoyed this year’s movie trips…

Drive

An arthouse crime movie. The lead character, played by Ryan Gosling, was a stunt driver for the movies who, in the evenings, would moonlight as a getaway driver. Despite his professions, he existed in a controlled and subdued world. The movie put this across brilliantly, and had the film not been enslaved too much by the twisting plot conventions of a crime movie, it would probably have been my film of the year.

We Need to Talk about Kevin.

Tilda Swinton’s character sits on a plastic chair in a travel agent’s office waiting to be interviewed for a job. It’s hot, and there’s an oscillating fan cooling the place. Opposite her on the wall there’s an underwhelming poster advertising somewhere far away. The poster isn’t stuck down at one corner, and as the fan turns to the wall, the air catches it and the corner of the poster curls up and flutters in the breeze. The fan turns away, the poster stops flapping, for a moment.

Pina 3D

Wim Wenders documentary about dancer Pina Bausch. I’ve seen a lot of contemporary dance productions in the theatre, and I’ve worked as a designer with one dance company, but it wasn’t until I actually saw a film about dance that I actually began to get it. Wenders shot new footage of Pina’s productions in theatres and outdoor locations and the 3D did give it an element of live performance. The powerful theatrical performances become hugely cinematic.

Well done Cineworld for showing Pina 3D, even though it was only for one night. It’s my film of 2011.

Gridlinked by Neal Asher

October 29, 2010

Published 2001

I picked up Neal Asher’s first novel because, along with his entire range of novels, it has recently been re-issued with an unpretentious cover depicting a pure sci-fi action scene from the novel.

To me these covers scream ‘genre fiction’, and to me the word ‘genre’ means ‘you know already what a lot of the storytelling ingredients of this story are going to be before you’ve read it’. Gridlinked’s cover promises a lot of sci-fi ingredients: space travel, aliens, advanced technologies.

I love this genre. Sometimes I like knowing that I’m going to get some of those storytelling ingredients which sparked my imagination as a kid, but I also like to think that it’s because of the trick I let them play on me.

Fiction is a trick. For the time you are reading a book a part of you actually believes these characters are real. This actually happened. Science fiction is the trick on a grand scale. Not only are you being asked to believe in the made up people, you’re also being asked to believe in made up worlds, societies, inventions, beings…the list goes on. I love stepping into the auditorium and letting the conjurer work his magic. The further it takes me away from the world I know the better – as long as I still believe. To use another performance metaphor: the reader is being asked to walk the tightrope set out by the author. A book set in contemporary Britain, for me, is setting the tightrope close to the ground. It’s still a journey across it, but not too far to fall if it fails, and you might even find a way to climb back up if you do.

For great imaginative sci-fi works, that rope is strung up between two monolithic towers. You can barely see the ground; it’s obscured by exotic clouds. Many readers suffer from vertigo and won’t even make the journey up to the top. Maybe it’s the hit I got from all those tightrope walks I’d done as a child that has left me permanently light-headed with the excitement, but I step forward and don’t look down.

So with Gridlinked I willingly stepped out into the void with my head held high.

In his protaganist, Agent Cormac, Asher has found just the right balance of humanity and grizzled experience. Cormac carries the story so robustly across various planets, encountering AIs and various metallic and organic monsters. Whilst not being as sophisticated in the ‘science’ of his universe as other similar authors such as Alastiar Reynolds and Peter F Hamilton, I was kept from falling off the tightrope by atmospheric descriptions, skin crawlingly creepy bad guys and Asher’s ability to propel the story forward at just the right speed. It’s a solid piece of sci-fi and I’d like to visit the universe again. Just let me get some rest on this rooftop before I look for another tightrope.