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My 12 for ’12: The Cabin in the Woods & The Virtues of Constructive Criticism

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 #4

The horror movie has always been a bit of an ugly stepchild when it comes to film genres. It seems, for instance, that horror movies (and directors) have to wait longer to receive recognition for the work that they’ve done. The Shining, for example, earned several Razzy nominations in the year of release, but is now regarded as one of many classics within Kubrick’s oeuvre. There are lots of reasons that the horror genre is easy enough to dismiss or ignore.

You could argue that there’s something so basic about fear that it isn’t considered as much of an artistic accomplishment to scare the audience. There are legitimate arguments to be made about the sexist connotations of various horror films. Perhaps more than any other genre, successes within the horror genre have a tendency to lead to self-cannibalisation – sequels, remakes, knock-offs – that dilute and erode any credibility that the original film had earned. The innovation of Paranormal Activity is harder to recognise after half-a-decade of found-footage imitations. The cleverness of the original Saw becomes harder to distinguish amongst a crowd of “torture porn” wannabes.

All of these are very legitimate criticisms to make about the nature of the genre as a whole, and perhaps they speak to why films within that niche are so easily dismissed. I will aggressively argue that several horror films are among the most important films ever made, but I will also concede that there is (as with everything) a lot of trash out there, and a lot of things we need to talk about. Cabin in the Woods feels like a genuine attempt to have that sort of conversation, and to raise those questions. More than that, though, it comes from a place of obvious affection for the genre and all that it represents. This isn’t a stern lecture about the inherent inferiority of a particular type of film,  but constructive criticism from a bunch of people who care deeply about the genre as a whole.

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My 12 for ’12: Room 237 & The Death of the Author

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 #10

Room 237 is a fascinating look at Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. It has been described as “the best DVD extra ever made”, and it definitely succeeds as a lighthearted (but incisive) exploration at one of the best horror films ever produced. While it works on that level, Room 237 works even better as a demonstration of what Roland Barthes termed The Death of the Author, the awkward relationship that exists between a piece of art, its creator and the audience watching it.

On a larger scale, Room 237 is the story of how a film can be appropriated by people, and how sometimes the real cinematic magic unfolds in the gap between the screen and the audience watching it.

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Kubrick, The Shining & Eating My Cinematic Greens…

I always feel a slight pang of guilt whenever I find myself discussing the work of Stanley Kubrick. Don’t get me wrong – I have a massive amount of respect for the director. I think he’s one of the very finest cinematic minds of his generation, a very shrewd and sophisticated cinematic intelligence who carefully constructed a series of masterpieces that exemplify some of the finest aspects of the medium. However, I always feel a slight hint of shame when asked to name my favourite Stanley Kubrick film. I’ll try to deflect, but if the matter is pressed I’ll answer honestly: The Shining is the Stanley Kubrick film that I love the most.

It feels like a bit of a cheat, a bit of an evasion. As much as people like The Shining – and people do adore the film – I feel a pang of guilt that I immediately go to the most populist film on Kubrick’s filmography. The Shining is saturated with meaning and depth, as is all of Kubrick’s work, but it seems like the most shallow or the least profound work in the Kubrick canon. And yet I love it more than Kubrick’s more philosophical, bolder, more challenging pieces of work.

I feel vaguely like I’m skimping on my cinematic greens.

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Non-Review Review: Room 237

Room 237 is an ode to cinema. Not just Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, mind you, despite the fact that fact that Kubrick’s horror film is the focus of the film’s talking heads (or disembodied voices) discussion. No, Room 237 is a celebratory tribute to every discussion and dissection of popular film, no matter how plausible or implausible, no matter whether conducted in print, on-line or in the pub with friends. Director Rodney Ascher’s documentary is as interested in the personal lives of its subjects – where they came from, with regards to the film – as it is with their views on the film itself.

In case you can’t tell, I was very taken with it.

Cut it there, Jack!

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Is The Shining About Native Americans?

You know how interested I am in quirky interpretations of the deeper meanings of popular culture – like the discussion over whether Anton Chigurh of No Country For Old Men is actually an angel or whether this year’s Torchwood: Children of Earth miniseries was actually about the recession. So it should come as no surprise that when I read about how The Shining by Stanley Kubrick is supposedly about the genocide of the Native Americans, I was more than a little intrigued.

Even the baking powder is in on it…

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