Cast Against Hype

Reflections on film and other forms of storytelling from a Swedish wannabe-storyteller…

Dead Serious Digital Dreams in ”Devs”

 

Even if you didn’t know this was the brainchild of a certain Alex Garland, known for ”Ex Machina” and ”Annihilation” just to name a few things, you might have guessed it. On the other hand; I will never know if I had, because that very fact was one of the things that piqued my interest to begin with. Apparently the guy is somewhat fascinated by the Brave New Digital World in general and Artificial Intelligence in particular. 

– So many decisions are made about our future, by people who know so little about our past, complains a character involved in extremely advanced tech development. 

But who can you trust in this day and age, if not the most ground-breaking, pioneering IT companies around? The ones who keep radically changing our entire worldview and our potential as a species? What could possibly go wrong? 

The techno-conglomerate around which everything revolves in ”Devs” certainly has power and influence. Big buildings, impressive architecture surrounded by lush environment while harbouring a few secrets. One employee, recently recruited to the most secretive, prestigious department of all, suddenly dies. Suicide, according to the company itself, a version supported by a disturbing video which would convince most people. One notable exception being the dead guy’s girlfriend who also happens to be employed by them. Industrial espionage appears to be part of the story, but as the series moves along it becomes pretty clear that’s not the real point, rather a narrative device to get the plot going. 

So, what is ”Devs” about, really? This is where it gets interesting for real. You have a traumatized but still determined young woman seeking the truth about a gruesome death, her ex-boyfriend reluctantly being brought in to help her in her quest; a likewise emotionally damaged tech visionary running experiments concerning the past, using advanced algorithms in his own quest to determine the future, and, well… There are other things going on here, but what makes this show special is the philosophical-existential inquiry. The plotting may be somewhat scattered and some details are simply there to make things happen, quite obviously so. But Garland and his team are on their own quest. The search for the truth about free will, maybe?

Remember the Tree of Knowledge, as described in The Book of Genesis: How much knowledge is too much? Is it a good idea to accomplish everything we can accomplish? Would it actually be possible in the near future to predict all human behaviour based on what happened before, as registered by powerful computers examining every pattern in history since the dawn of time? Then again, the idea of a Multiverse, where there might be different potential scenarios playing out simultaneously. There are competing views displayed here, regarding the idea of one given direction as opposed to multiple, parallel outcomes depending on where a certain simulation takes you. If I got this right. And I can’t say I’m 100 percent certain of anything even after watching the complete miniseries. 

”Devs” in other words, deals openly and unashamedly with the why of everything. As a viewer though, of course you will notice how the showrunners make choices in terms of visual design and – not to be neglected – sound. Sometimes it’s all stunningly beautiful and the next moment permeated by everyday greyness, but there is a clear visual strategy. Garland and his accomplices are also fond of starting out and finishing episodes accompanied by minimalist yet suggestive and intriguing pieces of music, emphasizing dissonant harmonies and reinforcing that sense of uncertainty; the paradoxical qualities of a show that manages to be frightening, inspiring, surprising and soothing in almost equal measure. You could argue it’s moving at a snail’s pace at times before exploding and turning things we’ve seen so far on its head. It illustrates breathtaking concepts followed by mundane observations. 

If someone tells you what you are going to do, how will it affect what you actually do? The question of free will and the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play. It becomes increasingly obvious that the show asks you to deal with concepts like determinism and destiny. If there really is a choice or everything you do in life is the inevitable result of events and actions that took place before. When someone tells our heroine ’the sense that you were participating in life was only ever an illusion’ this might be where the plot was leading us all along. Or maybe there are conflicting worldviews here: one or the other could be confirmed, while another is discarded. Unless there are options and we are given the choice of deciding to which one we prefer to subscribe. Arguably, not all of the problems presented are resolved, simply because it’s kind of impossible. But ”Devs” does manage to maintain suspense and unpredictability all the way into the closing moments. Amen. 

Remember This? A Movie Trailer Like No Other…

Times are tough. We need stuff like this, right? Like the movie trailer to end all movie trailers, presented some years ago as… yes, a spoof. But it does have everything you could possibly want from a trailer. Will it ever turn into a proper… movie? Probably not. Since it is also Holy Week, I’ll try to get back to you soon with a few suggestions for Easter-themed films to seek out this weekend. Until then… Have a little fun with this. You know you need it.

”Contagion” – Compulsory Viewing or the Last Film You Would Want to Watch Right Now?

– Try not touching your face…

Did you by any chance get that advice lately? Here in Sweden, we certainly have. Problem is… You can’t help it. We do it a lot more often than we are aware of. First time I remember being reminded of that fact was roughly eight years ago, while watching ”Contagion”. Maybe you’ve heard it mentioned once or twice these past weeks? Almost regardless of where you might live…

Lockdown. Borders closed. Financial meltdown. Obvious differences in governmental policies during a global crisis. A lot of of what we are facing at the moment was dealt with in the storyline of ”Contagion”, a dense, intense drama directed by Steven Soderbergh. The guy known for ”Sex, Lies and Videotape”, ”Traffic”, the highly underappreciated series ”The Knick” and a bunch of other stuff. The man is most likely a workaholic. Also, a distinctly realist, albeit stylistic, artist in his field. His natural instincts serve him (and the audience) well in a case like this. At least, that’s how I remember it. Haven’t rewatched it lately. Judging from a review I wrote in Swedish some eight years ago, ”Contagion” grapples with basically everything coming out of our daily news feeds as we speak, the month of March, the Year of our Lord 2020 AD.

People start getting seriously unwell in places all over the world. Authorities and governments struggle with decisions; What exactly is this disease? How does it spread? How do you stop it? What’s worst – doing too much, acting too fast or not acting at all? Quarantine, martial law, isolation, stockpiling, looting… You know, things like that. We learn things about the so-called Spanish Flu (which really wasn’t a Spanish invention, but you knew that already, right?). And, the face-touching detail… As explained by Kate Winslet (as seen in the trailer above), people in general do it three to five times ’every waking minute’. Which makes how often a regular day? Do the math, if you’re up for it.

Of course, I’m not the only one who started thinking about this particular film lately. Take this article in The Verge for example, explaining how it became increasingly more popular, first in South Korea, then in Australia, United States and other countries. Now, the obvious question: no, it doesn’t appear to be conveniently streamable on Netflix or any other major platform at the moment. Not here in Sweden, not in the US either judging from the article mentioned. I have a vague memory of seeing the title pop up in the Netflix menu a few months ago, but as of right now – no, it isn’t there to be found or watched. I was pretty sure I had DVD copy somewhere at home, but couldn’t find it here either. I did, however, come across a Bluray copy from an online store recently. So. It is here, physically, right in front of me while I’m writing this. I had been thinking of using it as a teaching tool in the school for adult students where I work. But, like so many other institutions in so many places, we recently switched to Distance teaching due to the circumstances you’re already aware of. As far as we know at this time, the current pandemic isn’t quite as lethal as the one described in this film. However, its impact on our daily lives has already been severe. Hopefully, affected societies will recover, but we’re in for a time of trials in many ways.

Question remains; should I rewatch ”Contagion” right now in any case, or wait? Is it absolutely essential viewing this week or the last thing I would want to get immersed in while trying to sort everything going on in the real world simultaneously?

I guess I’ll get back to you on that. Stay safe, if possible. Wait a minute, did I really write this piece without ever explicitly naming the cor…

Better Late Than Never – My Favourite Films of 2019

It’s late, I know. As an excuse I spent three weeks around Christmas and New Year in Mexico with my wife and her family and didn’t get around to do a whole lot of writing and compiling in general. Still catching up. Anyway, the decade is already wrapped up and you can find my favourite films and TV shows, respectively from the decade we just left behind here. But 2019 was quite a decent year for movies, actually one that I still find difficult to sum up, knowing that I haven’t – that word again – caught up with everything that could have ended up on my Top Ten. And  as you might be aware of, The Oscars are just a few hours away. So, finally, here we go…

…and oh, just to be clear; these are films that opened in Sweden in 2019. Some of them might seem that they belong on last year’s rankings but they simply hadn’t arrived here then. 

1. The Favourite (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)

Three women in a British 18th century court, fighting it out in different ways over who holds the real power. So smart, so entertaining. So…My Favourite last year.

2. Knives Out (Rian Johnson)

Good old-fashioned whodunnit turns out to be a little more than that. New franchise for Daniel Craig?

3. Us (Jordan Peele)

They’ve been waiting. Now it’s time. Our world is about to be turned on its head for ever. But who exactly are the good and bad guys here? Jordan Peele proves ”Get Out” wasn’t just luck. 

4. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

I have come to admire his work more and more over the years. I was a bit slow in recognizing his genius, I admit. This is both beautiful and disturbing, thought-provoking in a way I do appreciate, especially when you rewind the finale in your mind to figure out what it really means. If there is one and only one possible interpretation. 

5. Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher)

Elton John. No easy childhood. or young adulthood. And success didn’t result in happiness right away. Colourful, entertaining modern musical-fantasy. 

6. Instant Family (Sean Anders)

Charming little gem, starring a relatively young couple getting involved in foster-parenting and finding out what it takes to make a family. 

7. Long Shot (Jonathan Levine)

Charlize Theron, never funnier. Unexpected chemistry with Seth Rogen. Will they be First Couple or not?

 

8. Deadwood – The Movie (Daniel Minahan)

Closure at last. More than a decade after one of the best TV shows ever ended somewhat abruptly, we revisit the small frontier town to find out what became of those struggling citizens and their arch-nemesis named Hearst. Worth waiting for.

9. Vice (Adam McKay)

The story of Dick Cheney and his rise to power, told as a darkened sort of satire-comedy and a great Christian Bale in the lead. 

10. Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar)

Aging Spanish film director examines the life of an aging Spanish film director in an understated, slow-burn drama that never really raises its voice, but maintains attention throughout. 

 

Honourable Mentions:

Ready or Not

The Irishman

El Camino – A Breaking Bad Movie

Films I feel bad about not having seen yet: 

Parasite

High Life

Joker

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

… and a few others.  

And which film will win Best Picture tonight? As I said, still catching  up, but it seems like that ”1917” would have a shot, right? Probably a great achievement. I should go see it. Although, why do I feel like heroic war movies are not exactly what the world needs most right now? I know, I know. It’s probably more nuanced than that.

Spies, Drugs and Seriously Disturbed Characters – My Top 20 TV Shows of the Decade

The Walking Dead. Mad Men. Not included. So, there. For some reason I’m still stuck somewhere in the third season of TWD and just barely got around to watch a few episodes of MM. Maybe I will do something about that later. Still, there is so much. Too much. To watch. Here’s what stuck with me more than most of all the stuff out there. Some stories are apparently finished while others are still being told. The final verdict on some of these epics might change for the better – or worse. But, for now, this is it. 

1. Breaking Bad (2008-2013, created by Vince Gilligan). It simply shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. Could you even describe the basic premise and the general circumstances without scaring off most potential viewers? Bit by bit, it turned out a lot of us were inexplicably drawn into the tale of a middle-aged, burnt-out and bitter chemistry teacher on his new path as career criminal. The show just got better and better. And finally – the best. 

– So we made the list? Second best? Let’s get the barbecue going, then! Credit: hbonordic.com

2. Game of Thrones (2011-2019, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss). It was the biggest show on earth, like. And still, the final stretch became such a profoundly polarizing experience that different factions of fans seemingly were prepared to go to war with each other. Personally, most of the last season actually worked for me. But it’s obvious that the creators had created an impossible task for themselves. They couldn’t bring the whole world together. On the other hand, who can? All in all, however; the complete story, the visuals, the characters and the world-building was a monumental piece of work to behold, marvel at and sometimes, argue about.

3. The Americans (2013-2018; Joseph Weisberg). Sure. They do spy a lot. Och oh, do they deliver a particular kind of 1980’s nostalgia. But above all, this is the story of family and friendship. How to nurture your most important relationships when circumstances are extreme and you never can be completely honest and truthful. How do you save your soul? And what is the deepest meaning of identity?

Only fourth place? Well, the only way is up, baby! Credit: hbonordic.com

4.  Billions (2016- ; Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin). Big money, huge egos, lack of impulse control and lots of vengeance… We might not be exactly like them, but they’re still us. 

5. Penny Dreadful (2014-2016; John Logan). Gothic retro-horror where they by all reasonable standards crammed in too many ingredients and ideas and bloody kitchen sinks… But still, it worked. The show dared to take itself seriously throughout. And they didn’t have a lot of reasons to smile, so they simply didn’t very often. What it was, was a brutally beautiful journey into darkness and back again. For some, at least. 

6. The Knick (2014-2015; Jack Amiel, Michael Begler, Steven Soderbergh). Yes, I know. Most people missed it. And the allure of dangerously pioneering medical science in a New York City circa 1900 might be limited to a small crowd. Still, Clive Owen starred. Steven Soderbergh directed everyone of the 20 episodes produced. The result was something special. 

7. Narcos (2015- ; Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato). Spectacular scenery and urban melting pots. Profitable business and brutal conflict. A piece of modern history that could have been told in a number of different ways. This has proved to be an almost constantly intriguing one.

8. Black Sails (2014-2017; Robert Levine, Jonathan Steinberg). Spectacular spectacle but what’s the story, really? That seemed to be the initial audience reaction. And the showrunners never seemed visibly concerned about making it too easy and relatable, for which I’m thankful. They went ahead and followed a particular vision all the way, displaying death-defying attitude and creating a bittersweet aftertaste that I wouldn’t have expected when they first set sail.

9. Fargo (2014- ; Noah Hawley). People and places shifted between every season. But the atmosphere and the tone remained intact. Though, it was near impossible improving on the second round and its portrayal of feuding families in the 1970s; the devastating effects of greed on everyone, from hardened criminals to seemingly ordinary folks.

Staring down the opponent. Sometimes it’s a working strategy. Will ”Westworld” wipe out all competition in the coming decade? Credit: hbonordic.com

 10. Westworld (2016- ; Lisa Joy, Jonathan Nolan). Did I properly understand everything so far? Probably not. ”Westworld” is still such a powerful creative cacophony of impressions and ideas that it’s hard to resist and maybe even more difficult to let go of afterwards. 

11. The Bureau – Le Bureau des Légendes (2015- ; Eric Rochant). Oh, the French. They also make spy dramas. At least this one, which is so impressively obsessed with every detail in the spying game, and so anxious to show you the real consequences of it that it quickly becomes addictive, once you’ve figured out that it does actually exist and where to find it.  

12. The Handmaid’s Tale (2017- ; Bruce Miller). First season – devastatingly powerful. Second round – almost as good. Third one – not sure yet. Haven’t seen all the episodes, and maybe they’re starting to get slightly sidetracked. Still… Strong stuff. 

13. Homeland (2011- ; Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon). You can say a lot of things about this show; mixed messages, contrived plotlines, improbabilities and a not always likeable or comprehensible heroine. Well. They do know to tell a story and keep up the pace. And at its very best it is thought-provoking in the best way possible. 

14th place? Well. After all, we’re just leftovers… Credit: hbonordic.com

14. The Leftovers (2014-2017; Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta). Heavy going. It is undoubtedly one of the most innovative, original shows this millennium so far. It demands something of you, sometimes you just need to take a break and get back to it later. And once again prepare to be blown away and profoundly disturbed, before the next…break. 

15. Orphan Black (2013-2017; John Fawcett, Graeme Manson). In some ways the most impressive individual performance of an actor these last years. Tatiana Maslany incorporates a number of clones with distinct personalities during five seasons of almost constantly highly entertaining science fiction/relationship drama for our times. 

16. La Casa de Papel – Money Heist (2017- ; Álex Pina). Talking about entertaining. Spanish criminals battling the law in a scheme that might have borrowed some ideas from Spike Lee’s ”Inside Man” to begin with, but moved on to paint a larger canvas and force you to consider your sympathies over and over again. 

17. The Bronze Garden – El Jardín de Bronce (2017- ; Gustavo Malajovich, Marcos Osorio Vidal). Two miniseries so far of this Argentine mystery-thriller-drama beginning with the disappearance of a child and her father’s relentless search for the truth. Atmospheric, haunting and deeply human. 

18. Barry (2018- ; Alec Berg, Bill Hader). Funny guy, that Hader. He basically decided to make his own main character the most serious, least overtly funny guy in the show. Because he doesn’t need to be. He is suffering. So are most other characters in here, but still, together they pack such a mean comedic punch while being dead serious, that the show creates a universe of its own. Still ongoing – where will it end up?

19. Jane the Virgin (2014-2019, Jennie Snyder Urman). ’After all, this is a telenovela…’ Well, sort of. Playing around with genre conventions and basically every storytelling tool ever invented, while portraying some really relatable characters in sickness and health, infatuation and insidious scheming, it was impossible not to like. 

An award to kill for, you said? By the time we’re finished we’ll be number one – trust me. Credit: hbonordic.com

20. Killing Eve (2018- , Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Weird relationships. Indeed. Assassins and law-abiding officers facing off with unpredictable outcomes. Feels like the bigger story is still in its initial phase. What will come out of this in the end?

 

Almost Made It: The Honourable Woman (Hugo Blick), Luther (Neil Cross), Bosch (Michael Connelly, Eric Overmyer), True Detective (Nic Pizzolatto), Taboo (Chips Hardy, Tom Hardy), The Expanse (Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby),  Mindhunter (Joe Penhall), American Gods (Bryan Fuller, Michael Green), Chernobyl (Craig Mazin), The Good Fight (Robert King, Michelle King, Phil Alden Robinson).  

Honourable Mentions: Bloodline, The Path, Banshee, Berlin Station, Masters of Sex, The Walking Dead, The Newsroom, The Brink, Outlander, Mr. Robot, Hannibal, Club de Cuervos, One Day at a Time, Sherlock, The Night Of, Bodyguard, Ray Donovan, Fortitude, Orange Is the New Black, Boss…

No Marvel Included – My 40 Favourite Films of the Decade

Fully aware of everything I haven’t seen, these are what I consider my 40 favourite films (all categories included), released in the decade now coming to an end. An era seemingly defined by the superhero genre, which, I might add, is not represented here. Now you know. It’s not that I can’t enjoy a Marvel or DC adventure now and then, but – how many of them are truly great cinema? SPOILER ALERT 2: a few filmmakers have stood out more than others in these last ten years; Nolan. Villeneuve. Garland. Cuarón. It will show. Also, I will emphasize the difficulty in ranking these films in a particular order. The difference in quality and impact between number one and, say, 20, is not really huge. These are all works of art and storytelling that I deeply appreciate for somewhat varying reasons. 

1. Spotlight (Directed by Thomas McCarthy, 2015). Classic storytelling. Traditional. Methodic. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Dealing with a sort of traditional, painstakingly thorough investigative journalism that might fall prey to the great extinction. Hopefully not. And hopefully these kinds of films are not a completely dying breed either. 

2. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010). Layers on layers of dreams and adventures in the subconscious. Maybe more than a strictly speaking healthy dose of food for thought. But it does provide lasting impressions of an ambivalent variety that clearly shows a master has been at work, playing with our minds and stirring our senses. 

3. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018). “Mean Girls”; 18th Century version. Could have been insufferable, but turns out so improbably right in all aspects that it becomes irresistible. 

4. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015). Basically all action and no plot, but what action! And what visual extravaganza! I surrender. 

5. The Handmaiden (Chan-wook Park, 2016). Basically all advanced plotting and no action, at least not action action. But consistently surprising, mesmerizing and maybe the working definition of infernal affairs. 

6. Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014). Who is most real? What is conscience? And which is Alicia Vikander’s best role so far? Maybe this one. Maybe. 

7. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016 ). One of the decade’s most significant auteurs explores humanity confronting the unknown, but probably most of all, the very concept of time. Doesn’t have to be completely comprehensible to be absorbing and more or less unforgettable. 

8. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014). More on the unknown. More on time and what it really means. Seemingly dystopian vision turns into something mindbendingly magnificent.

9. Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari, 2016). War is coming. So is an evil spirit in the house. Mother and daughter struggle to maintain sanity and a grasp pf reality – whatever that means – in a sensational directorial debut that deserves a bigger audience. 

10. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013). Basically just about the urgent struggle for survival, alone in space, for 90 nail-biting minutes. 

11. Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón, 2014). Different tales, yet it seems like one coherent story about, well… people. Our fragile nature and sensitive ego. Entertaining and disturbing in equal measure. 

12. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017). Taking on a cultural heritage like this and moving forward with it demands a visionary mind equipped with nerves of steel. Like the intrepid monsieur Villeneuve.

13. Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010). So sad, so unrelenting, so deeply existential and still beautiful in spite of telling a story about people growing up with no real future, or hope or being valued as individuals. 

14. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie, 2018). These impossible missions for Tom Cruise et al just keep on getting tougher. And the films are getting better and better. Sometime I guess they will have to pull the brakes and at least put a younger hero in harm’s way, but when? 

15. Coco (Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina, 2017). Death. More colourful than ever. Still offering more depth and dimensions, not least regarding memory and how we handle the inevitable – like loss. 

16. Sound of Noise (Ola Simonsson, Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, 2010). Films like these aren’t really being made. Especially not in Sweden. Probably it’s an illusion that it actually seems to exist, but I put it on my list anyway. Don’t wake me up and tell me it was just a dream.

17. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010). So, this is how it all began? And now we’ve all handed our lives over to him? Interesting… 

18. Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017). Some laughs but mostly horror in a directorial debut you didn’t see coming from one half of comedy act Key & Peele. 

19. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010). Perfection until death, as told by a perfectionist who always seems to elicit strong reactions of the more polarized variety. He has to be rewarded here. 

20. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018). Rich, nuanced drama with an almost unparalleled attention to mundane details and subtle changes in relationship dynamics.

21. Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018). Another inspiring trend among the most memorable movies of late is the plot doesn’t have to be 100 percent comprehensible to be – yes, memorable. Not as long as it provides food for thought and intriguing impressions. 

22. Spring (Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, 2014). Lost American hiding out in the south of Europe meets a woman that is anything but ordinary. Horror-romance story turns unexpectedly inspiring and frankly uplifting in the midst of a macabre premise. 

23. Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013). I am pretty sure Danny Boyle has directed objectively better films than this one, but more outright entertaining? I doubt it.

24. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013). The creative combination of sensible science fiction and sensitive relationship-oriented drama has been one of the most encouraging trends in filmmaking during this decade. And yeah, obviously it says something about us and our time. Something that may or may not be equally encouraging. 

25. The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012). The rest of the quadrilogy didn’t fully deliver the same punch that this first instalment promised. It wasn’t bad, but not as gut-punchingly gorgeous in a weird way that made this first chapter a must-see. 

26. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010). Dennis Lehane wrote the story. Scorsese directed. DiCaprio starred. Questions?

27. First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017). Priest with environmental angst struggles with just about everything. Films like these hardly ever get made. Let alone made this well. 

28. Vanishing Waves (Kristina Buozyte, 2012). ”The Cell”, the Lithuanian version. Only, I would say, even better. Has to be seen to be believed. 

29. Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer, Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 2012). What’s it about? What isn’t it about? An epic, challenging adventure anyway.

30. Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011). Uplifting? Not so much. Definitely thought-provoking and in a weird way almost inspiring. Is it about the end of the world or is it a metaphor for something else? You make the call. 

31. Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman, 2014). Over and over again, the same groundhoggish day fighting invading aliens. Underrated scifi-action piece, also one of Tom Cruise’s most underrated performances. 

32. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar, 2011). For some reason I like his darker side more than the lighter one, and his has to be one of the darkest things he ever did. Antonio Banderas might be doing his best work ever here, incidentally. 

33. Mother! (Darren Aronofsky, 2017). Yeah, you might hate it. Hate it, and I will not hold it against you. Personally I find it a magnicent mess, or rather spectacularly messy but in a magnificent way. 

34. Snowpiercer (Joon-Ho Bong, 2013). Ride this train! Well, if you’re still alive in this post-apocalyptic vision, you don’t have much choice. 

35. What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, 2014). Vampires! Comedy! Vampires and comedy! Yeah, you’ve seen that combination before. But you didn’t see this combination before. 

36. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013). Heavy, hard-hitting history that just about everyone ought to watch at least once. If you can stomach it. 

37. Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012). Probably not entirely truthful, but imminently entertaining about unlikely hostage rescue operation in Iran, post-revolution 1979. 

38. These Final Hours (Zak Hilditch, 2013). Heartbreaking rendition of a world about to end – yes, really end – and one man’s final attempt to do something meaningful for someone else before it’s all over. 

39. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh, 2014). Priest in a small town gets a very specific death threat. By whom? And how should he spend what might be his last week alive? 

40. The Headhunters (Morten Tyldum, 2011). Norwegian thriller set in some sort of corporate world, keeps the suspense going with nasty surprises, one after the other, until… You’ll see.

 

Some close competitors and honourable mentions:

Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle), Four Lions (Chris Morris), The Secret in their Eyes (Juan José Campanella), Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo), 127 Hours (Danny Boyle), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), Baby Driver (Edgar Wright), Eye in the Sky (Gavin Hood), Snowden (Oliver Stone), Gone Girl (David Fincher), Kill the Messenger (Michael Cuesta), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos), Atomic Blonde (David Leitch), The Martian (Ridley Scott), Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley), Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow), Silence (Martin Scorsese), Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve), Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson), Skyfall (Sam Mendes), Beasts of No Nation (Cary Joji Fukunaga), Contagion (Steven Soderbergh), Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)…

 

Coming soon: My Favourite TV Shows of the Decade. With or without superheroes.

100 Films You Should See (If You Haven’t Already)

 

Hitchcock, Alfred. Is he included on the list? Since you asked, yes. By Fred Palumbo – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c21483, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1305493

It’s always personal. Still, there is a canon. Some films are simply extremely likely to show up on virtually every “Films you should watch before you die” whenever these lists appear. Some of these are here. Such as “The Godfather 1 & 2”, “Citizen Kane”, “Jaws”, a couple of Hitchcock and at least one Chaplin. But I did omit a few of the usual suspects… You will not find “The Shawshank Redemption” here. Not that it’s a bad movie. It’s a pretty good one. But it never meant that much to me personally and I still struggle to comprehend the fact that it resides as the Number One Movie Ever Made, as voted by the users of Internet Movie Database. Obviously there is a black hole where my heart ought to be. Anyway, sooner or later you have to create one of these very, very important compilations yourself, right? I found an excuse a few years ago in a work-related context. I teach social sciences and similar stuff to adult students who didn’t complete all of their basic education, or what in Sweden would be the equivalent of high school, and feel the need to fill in the blanks. Now and then I take the opportunity to sneak in some cinematic/storytelling themes like brief film history, genre definitions, narrative arcs and the like. This spring I decided to update this list and in the process translate it into English for some reason. Just because.

Bogart & Bergman – together at last! No compilation like this would be complete without “Casablanca”. But you knew that already. By Warner Bros. – eBayarchive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80446534

Sometimes these projects make you realize things about yourself and the issues at hand. Like the fact that 95 percent of these titles were directed by men. Says something about the industry, but still a bit troubling. Or that only four of these films are Swedish. Maybe less troubling. 79, I think, are spoken primarily in English. Nine were shot in black and white, if I remember correctly. The total number of Mexican directors are… Well. You can see for yourself. In the AD 2019 version of my own personal “100 films you should see”. Full report available now in pdf below.

Related: A decade is coming to an end. Currently I’m trying to figure out which films, TV shows and albums (music, that is) from these past ten years I did appreciate the most. Some time before 2019 turns into 2020 I will have the answers and publish them here, I hope. Who said it was going to be easy?

100 Films you should see-PJL2019

My Gendrified ‘Game’ Theory Still in Play?

Best laid plans… Don’t always result in the desired outcome. Expect the unexpected in the last two episodes of ”Game of Thrones”? Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO.

So, still around, isn’t he? Oh – for those of you not up to date on current events in the world of ”Game of Thrones”, here might be a few spoilers. Or more correctly, there are. Not too many, but still; my man Gendry did survive The Long Night and subsequently got snubbed by Arya. At least in the form of a Lady to accompany him at ”Storm’s End”, for which he’d just been appointed caretaker manager. Or maybe simply ”Lord”. Queen Daenerys is trying to make new friends, although her impatience seems to create more problems than before – as if she needed more of those. The latest episode got intensely emotional in the last half hour and we’re definitely back to the uncertainties and complexities from the early seasons. So, a few weeks ago I toyed with the idea of Gendry the Blacksmith, Baratheon bastard, could eventually turn out to be the ruler of all seven kingdoms after all other options have been exhausted. Not entirely surprisingly, there are others out there considering a similar outcome. Like in the most recent episode of Entertainment Weekly’s Game of Thrones podcast, available ’where you get your podcasts’ or simply their website. Their Gendryfication prediction is pronounced 20 minutes into their analysis of the ”Last of the Starks” episode. If, that is, anyone at all should have absolute power. Which is also a topic briefly raised later in this particular podisode. Well then, 71 ”GoT” chapters down, two more to go. A lot more can, and probably will, happen. But I guess I have to rule out Theon being involved in running an ice hotel business north of the wall. At least he went out on top.

 

Related: EW’s Game of Thrones Weekly podcast breaks down ‘The Last of the Starks’ / Darren Franich,  May 06, 2019, Entertainment Weekly

Who Will End Up On the Throne? A Game Theory…

Gendry and Arya. Talking about important stuff. And possibly planning a political coup? Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

You might have noticed it was about to start over again. Or, that it actually did. Beginning of the end. Final Season of an epic that quite literally moved between ice and fire for almost a decade. This past winter I entertained an obviously overly optimistic plan notion of rewatching all of the previous seasons before the final stretch. As it is I’m approaching the Red Wedding, which of course means I’m somewhere in the late third season. Some of us have day jobs. And other shows to watch…

Needless to say, a lot has happened since that infamous event. In case you happen to speak (and read) Swedish, seasons 1-7 are all reviewed at russin.nu. Two episodes into Season 8, it’s definitely on again. Commentary, analysis, recaps – online, printed or podcasted regarding the way the show manages (or not) to live up to all of these different expectations. ”Game of Thrones” does, as we all know, not display precisely the same priorities as it did when it first appeared. It’s grander, visually more spectacular and dwarfing all competition in the special effects department, rather than the Medieval Times-inspired drama with some fantasy components added that we saw coming out of the gates in 2011. Good thing or not? I hadn’t read the books at all when I started watching the show, but I did get through the first two novels a while back to compare the George R.R. Martin vision with that of showrunners Benioff & Weiss at least to some degree. Sometimes they actually improve on the source material, other times they obviously have to leave out exciting stuff. And I still consider Seasons 1, 3 and 4 my personal favourites. That said, how could I not look forward to see this to the end? Who’s going to take the throne, for one thing? 

Well, here we go. Gendry. The guy without any visible ambitions beyond tending to his craft, down in a darkened forge somewhere, depending on where he’s needed and as you might remember, also depending on the need to hide. He’s always been trying hard to avoid attention, learning the leechy way what can happen when the wrong people find out you’ve got royal blood running in your veins (then again, who doesn’t in Westeros these days?). But, when all the others have tired of battling – or simple been wiped out by enemies, living or walking dead, he will reluctantly accept responsibility and take on the task of running the seven kingdoms, maybe not so much with an iron hand but very likely employing Arya Stark as personal bodyguard (and maybe more, depending on how you interpret what came out of their interactions in the dungeon last week). Remember Hot Pie? Regardless of where he resides right now, he will have to move to the capital and run the Royal Kitchen. Daenerys and Jon Snow, confused about who’s really got the strongest claim to the crown, will give it all up and find freedom in simply roaming around the known world riding the backs of dragons. Or eventually found the precursor of what we know as modern-day travel agencies. 

Cersei, yeah, Cersei. Finally, she’s about to realize that a life in luxury without any real friends whatsoever is somewhat overrated and decide to seek life in silent seclusion at some isolated abbey, maybe on one of these small islands we seldom get to visit on the show. The supercynical power player might really get religion at last – and there are a few to choose from. She might bring the baby we haven’t seen yet, or give it up for adoption. Sansa, Theon and Brienne, probably eagerly assisted by Tormund Giantsbane, get into the hotel business. North of the now breached wall. An ice hotel, but that goes without saying I guess, with guided tours into the ’Formerly known as Night King-land’. Did I get forget something important? Advisers to the young ruler? There are still some moderately clever people around to choose from. Eventually it could all end up with some sort of a protosocialist cooperate or social-liberal democracy with free elections and a universal basic income. 

Unless they’re all dead by then. But of course, all of these predictions hinges on the result of the upcoming battle between the Living and the White Walkers & Co. All of this might be completely out of the question just a few days from now. We simply have to wait and see. 

My Personal Oscar Predictions 2019. Just Because.

Who will win? Why? Will anyone care and will there actually be a show at all? Questions abound this year, possibly more so than ever. Judging from a number of pundits, and in my case listening to a more than a few film-related podcasts lately, there are reasons to worry. There might not even be a traditional host, for various reasons. No one to lead the masses through the raging Red Carpet and beyond like a Modern-day Moses… And you’re supposed to be good at this! You, Americans. Usually, you do know how to put on a good show. Ever watched the Swedish equivalent of the Oscars ceremony? Don’t expect to be blown away.

Anyway, there’s not a lack of worthy award recipients. This time I’ve seen the majority of the films nominated for a Best Picture award ahead of the show, which doesn’t happen every year. Six out of eight so far. Of these, my personal favourite is, well, ”The Favourite”. Though I wouldn’t weep if ”Roma” was rewarded either. Many people have commented on the fact that there are several blockbusters, hugely commercially successful movies in the competition here, such as ”Bohemian Rhapsody”, ”Black Panther” and ”A Star Is Born”. Critics are deeply divided over the merits of ”Rhapsody”, with a director seemingly fallen from grace and basically ignored in this context. Did I enjoy that film? Yes, I did. Was I among the many Queen fans over her back in the day. You could say that. I’m sure it’s flawed in many ways, but it does keep your attention. However, it will probably not win. ”A Star Is Born” generally seems to have lost its momentum and might go home emptyhanded. At least in the biggest and most talked-about categories. ”Green Book” and ”BlacKkKlansman” (both unseen by me so far) boasts True Story-based concepts that (at least in the the case of the former) have been called into question. Well, all things considered, I’ll go with ”Roma”, even if the Netflix distribution in most parts of the world (such as here in Sweden) might turn some voters off. 

As I mentioned, many take issue with ”Bohemian Rhapsody”, not least regarding what’s in it and what’s left out, but there seems to be a consensus, not 100 percent but maybe 87,5, that Rami Malek does a pretty great job in the leading role. I take the easy way out and predict he wins this category. Though Christian Bale’s transformation into former vice president Dick Cheney might actually be an even better performance. Possibly Bradley Cooper still has a shot, but… Probably not. For the female equivalent I’d love to see newcomer Yalitza Aparicio honoured for ”Roma”, but hey, Olivia Colman is nothing short of masterful as the miserable Queen Anne in ”The Favourite”. I’ll take a chance on Colman. Maybe because I haven’t seen ”The Wife”, for which Glenn Close has already received some love from certain other institutions. Also, she was directed by a Swede so what could possibly go wrong? Lady Gaga? Well, she doesn’t seem as widely appreciated anymore, even if she did a really good job as Coopers protegée in that remake of a remake of a classic that once inspired the 80’s synth-pop sensation ”Don’t You Want Me” by Human League. But I digress. Did I say I’ll go Colman here? Right or wrong, we’ll know tomorrow. Yes, from a European perspective the results will be in tomorrow. 

Male supporting actor? I’ll pass. Haven’t seen Adam Driver, Richard E. Grant or Mahershala Ali do their thing, respectively. Yet.  Supporting Actress does have some juicy parts, and I guess I place my bets on Emma Stone, competing with Rachel Weisz from the same film (”The Favourite”) and Amy Adams (convincingly MacBethian  in ”Vice”) and Marina de Tavira as the grieving, ambivalent housewife in ”Roma”. Regina King seems to have a shot, but you guessed it, I have yet to watch ”If Beale Street Could Talk”. 

Directing: Yes, Alfonso Cuarón already got one of these at home, but ”Roma” is such an prime example of visible direction and vision and all that. How could he lose? Caveat: How good is ”Cold War”? 

Original screenplay… ”First Reformed” has been less than amiably treated in this context. Maybe, maybe writer-director Paul Schrader gets some recognition here, but I doubt it. He will be mostly ignored and the writers of ”The Favourite” rewarded. That wouldn’t be unfair either. I repeat, it’s a great satire/costume dramedy with a brilliant dialogue as the foundation for everything else. Adapted screenplay? I’ll better shut up there. Would have had to see three more nominated films first. 

Cinematography: Sorry. ”Roma” again. It is getting ridiculous, but among so many other things, it’s exceedingly, breathtakingly gorgeous to behold. Production design, Costume and Original Score is where I guess ”Black Panther” will get its recognition tonight. While writing this, I’m actually listening to the Panther soundtrack by Mr Ludwig Göransson (Swedish, just a reminder) and as it happens I should have seen the other four nominees in this category before boldly predicting anything, but you’ve got to live on the edge sometimes, right? 

Will I watch the whole thing? I wish. Over here, you need a special subscription to the internet-based TV channel provided by one of our biggest and most profitable newspapers to have access to the Oscars show nowadays. Could be worth it, but I also have a civilian job. So I suspect there will be recaps on YouTube and podcast postmortems for me instead. Perhaps it’s the safer choice. If all the train-wreck predictions and dire prophecies turn out to be accurate…

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