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My 12 for ’13: Honorable Mentions

Over the next few days, I’ll be revealing my favourite twelve films of 2013. I suspect that it will be a slightly quirky and eccentric list – I doubt anybody but myself will agree on every choice, but I hope that encapsulates the diversity and brilliance of the year that we’ve had. Indeed, I was actually quite impressed with the quality of films that were released in 2013, from large tentpoles through to more intimate and low-key film-making.

In fact, I was so impressed that I thought I’d put together a list of brief honourable mentions of the films that didn’t quite make the cut for my top twelve films of 2013.

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Non-Review Review: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug represents a considerable improvement on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Some of the same problems still lurk at the edge of the frame: the pacing needs a bit of work; the movie is about half-an-hour too long; it feels a little too consciously like one extended prelude to The Lord of the Rings. And yet, despite all these flaws, The Desolation of Smaug accomplishes a lot of what it sets out to do.

This is very clearly the same Middle Earth that viewers remember from The Lord of the Rings. Even the least obsessive viewer will still recognise the occasional familiar landmark or setting from the early film. It’s not just the New Zealand locations that shine through; great care has been taken to establish a geography of this fictional landscape. Viewers who have yet to memorise the names and routes on Tolkien’s meticulously-prepared maps can see that this is the same world.

It’s just being seen from a different perspective. The Hobbit isn’t really an adaptation of that much-loved adventure tale, at least not exclusively. It is instead being crafted as a companion piece, with the heroes’ quest providing a handy travelogue of a world in turmoil.

The gold standard?

The gold standard?

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Watch! The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Trailer!

The latest trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has arrived on-line. Check it out below. While I’ll concede that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was over-long and quite padded, I enjoyed it more than most. Part of that is down to Martin Freeman’s charisma, but also in the way that Jackson seems to relish the relatively lower stakes of this story. (Musical dish-cleaning sequence anyone?) I’ll admit that I’m curious to see what Jackson’s second installment holds in store. That said, the trailer does seem to suggest quite a lot of superfluous material – a Legolas romantic subplot? really? – but it also teases Benedict Cumberbatch as a flame-throwing pun-wielding dragon. So it’s safe to say the jury’s still out.

 

Watch! The Full 1985 Version of The Hobbit! In Russian!

Okay, since there’s no subtitles this is sort of a bit of a niche thing, but I found it and thought I’d pass it on.

Below is the full 1985 version of The Hobbit produced for Russian television. It is… a little less impressive than Peter Jackson’s adaptation, and not just because it’s in less than 48 frames per second and two dimensions. Still, I kinda admire the ambition of it, even if the results are less than spectacular. Check out how they take down Smaug, for an example, or the way that the action cuts back to the “narrator” before any expensive shots are required.

The whole thing calls to mind the sort of stuff the BBC were doing with Doctor Who at the time, and I can’t quite hate it. After all, the matte paintings are great and at least it seems committed to an idea that would have been technically quite difficult for a big-budget movie of the time, let alone state television.

Check it out below and let me know what you think!

12 Movie Moments of 2012: Running (Shame)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #8

It is quite common to see New York presented in an unpleasant light. After all, Martin Scorsese’s films capture the metropolis at its very best and its very worst, and there are countless gangster films devoted to exploring the dark underbelly of a city that is easily one of the most recognisable in the world. I have never been to New York, and yet I feel like – through years of film-watching – I have come to know the city almost as if I have lived there.

As such, I was surprised when Shame managed to offer me a somewhat novel take on New York itself. The city is as much a character in the film as any of Steve McQueen’s supporting cast. (Indeed, Carey Mulligan even gets to perform an extended version of “New York, New York” in tribute to her co-star.) McQueen manages to craft a distinctly unpleasant and uncomfortable exploration of the city without resorting to any of the trite clichés that one associates with the horrors of urban living.

Indeed, one long single-take shot of Brandon running within the confines of the city offered a more powerful sense of urban anomie and isolation than I have ever seen before, presenting a cold blue city completely indifferent and unaware of the millions of people living within the city limits.

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My 12 for ’12: The Raid (Redemption) & An Action Aesthetic…

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #12

It’s a bit of a stereotype that critics don’t like action movies. It’s one of those handy clichés that gets trotted around whenever some mega-blockbuster brings in a ridiculously large number at the box office after a thrashing from the pundits. I can’t speak for the critics, of course, but I can tell you that the reason I disliked The Bourne Legacy or Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon had nothing to do with an innate dislike of action movies as a genre. I’m a big fan of action movies. However, like any other genre, an action movie needs to be done right.

The Raid does an action movie right.

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Non-Review Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

I always feel a little embarrassed to admit that I prefer The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings. Don’t worry, I know that by any objective measure of craft The Lord of the Rings is a far more impressive literary accomplishment, but I never really connected with the characters at the heart of that sprawling epic in the way that I empathised with Bilbo Baggins. As such, it’s a massive relief to me that Peter Jackson turns in an endearing and enjoyable, if padded and indulgent, first instalment in his Hobbit trilogy. The technical advances and the somewhat cynical structuring of the film tend to garner a great deal of discussion and debate, but the heart of Tolkien’s introduction to Middle Earth is still here. The only problem is that absolutely everything else is as well.

And that's just the script to Part I...

And that’s just the script to Part I…

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