In one of these columns back in 2007 I said, “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.” Those were the days, eh? Now you can’t get away from it. This week nostalgia is everywhere – getting up your nose and on your shoes – and the prime culprits are young whippersnappers who should know better – yearning for their High School years in that innocent-yet-filthy time before Y2K and 9/11 changed everything.
The first American Pie was a well-executed implementation of that noble genre, the teen sex comedy. Four sequels (two direct-to-video) leeched whatever goodwill there might have remained out of the project but – as the careers of Jason Biggs, Seann Williamm Scott and Chris Klein have stuttered – the Hollywood economy will eventually demand its tribute. American Reunion is the result.
Three films this week point the way towards possible futures for cinema – and if two of them are right then we should all find another hobby. Like Crazy is a mostly-improvised romance shot on one of those pro-am stills cameras that can also shoot hi-def video (the Canon 7D in this case). These devices are affordable and highly portable but the look that they have, while effective in music videos and short sequences, doesn’t keep your interest over the length of a full feature. And, just because your camera lets you shoot a lot of footage of people noodling around making stuff up, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still have an actual plan.
Actually, the photography is less of a problem in Like Crazy than the story: two young lovers not so much star-crossed as US Department of Immigration-crossed, have to decide how much they care for each other when their efforts to be together are thwarted by the pesky Atlantic ocean and their own shallowness. Felicity Jones (Chalet Girl ) is the Brit who overstays her student visa so she can be with Californian furniture designer Anton Yelchin (Fright Night), setting the wheels in motion that will actually keep them apart for years.
I’ve been watching reactions to other people’s “Best of 2011” with interest. It’s fascinating to see online commentors insist that films they have seen are so much better than films that they haven’t. Even though I do, in fact, watch everything I’m not going to pretend that this list is definitive – except to say that it gets a lot closer than most…
I also don’t believe in the arbitrariness of “Top Tens”. I have my own entirely arbitrary scale: Keepers, Renters and Respecters.
Keepers are the films that I loved so much I want to own them – films that make me feel better just having them in the house. The first film I adored this year was slushy Disney horse racing story Secretariat. It should have been everything I hate – manipulative, worthy, a faith-based subtext – and yet I cried like a baby – expert button-pushing from director Randall Wallace. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was my favourite blockbuster. Superb direction by Rupert Wyatt overcame the flaws (ahem, James Franco, ahem) and it carefully walked the tightrope of both respect for its predecessors and kicking off something new.
Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is my favourite film of the year by a long stretch. A second viewing allowed me to stop thinking about it and just feel it, meaning that I got closer than ever before to the soul of a film artist. Profound in the way that only the greatest works of art are. Tusi Tamasese announced himself with one of the most mature and considered debuts I’ve ever seen – The Orator placed us deeply inside a culture in a way that was both respectful and challenging of it. That film’s journey hasn’t finished yet.
Expat Kiwi auteur Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) somehow always manages to tap in to the zeitgeist and with new sci-fi thriller In Time his own timing is almost spookily perfect. A parable about the modern political economy, In Time isn’t a particularly sophisticated analysis but while protestors occupy Wall Street, St Paul’s in London and the City to Sea Bridge here in Wellington, it seems almost perfectly calculated to provoke a big Fuck You! to the bankers, speculators and hoarders who are rapidly becoming the Hollywood villains we love to hate.
In Niccol’s world, several decades into the future, time is literally money: human beings have been genetically modified to stop (physically) ageing at 25. Which would be lovely apart from the fact that a clock on your writst then starts counting down the one year you have left to live and the time on your wrist becomes currency. You can earn more by working, transfer it to others by shaking hands, borrow more from banks and loan sharks or you can spend it on booze to blot out the horror of your pathetic little life.