Cast Against Hype

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

Tag: Drama

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

Death, Disappearing Acts and Details of Daily Life – My Favourite Films of 2018

So… Are these the very best? As always, I probably missed a few serious contenders. Also as always, this is about films released in Sweden during 2018 AD. Which, for example, might mean some Oscar nominees and even winners of last year could show up here. Do they? Let’s find out, shall we?

1. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (directed by Christopher McQuarrie)

They run, hide, jump and fight to save the world. Many are called but few are chosen as well as Tom Cruise & Co in this surprisingly persistent and still vital movie franchise.  

2. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)

Grand and intimate, beautiful and troublesome, in this magnificent ode to life in Mexico City during times of turbulence back in the early 70’s. Though most of all, so impressive in its depiction of daily life and its attention to details. 

 3. Annihilation (Alex Garland)

What is it really about? What happened in that weird, glowing forest? We could discuss that for hours on end without completely reaching an agreement. Anyway, it’s one of 2018’s most consistently intriguing films. At least I agree on that. 

4. Coco (Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina)

Death. It’s really colourful and attractive, right? At least in this Mexicanized musical universe. 

5. Sicario: Day of the Soldado (Stefano Sollima)

Death. Sometimes it’s all too unnecessary, don’t you think? Can’t we all just get along? Still, entering this world means being trapped for two hours, wondering where it’s all going, whom you’re to supposed to sympathize with and why. 

6. A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper)

One is falling, the other one rising and they love each other. But… It’s complicated. Impressive directing debut for Bradley Cooper, who doesn’t let the actor Bradley Copper retain all that much dignity when the going really gets tough for the protagonist. Also, Lady Gaga is in the movie. You knew that, right? Come to think of it, she’s probably the real protagonist. She can sing! And act, incidentally. 

7. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

Light entertainment indeed… Or, no. Ethan Hawke as a preacher with a tortured soul trying to figure out the purpose of his life at a point where he’s lost a family, maybe his faith as he used to know it and possibly hope for the future in general. What kind of catharsis could be in store for him – and us? Well, it is painful. And also somewhat hopeful. 

8. The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci)

Death. Again… Oh by the way, watching films on airplanes. What’s your stance on that? I did that in this case. Could it be this one deserves a higher ranking? Entertaining and shrewd satire. 

9. The Post (Steven Spielberg)

The Master’s ode to the Free Press. Traditional, highbrow, old-fashioned, maybe. But also entertaining and kind of… is it this little word important I’m really trying to emphasize here?

10. Foxtrot (Samuel Maoz)

Israeli drama, apparently not entirely appreciated by everyone within the country itself. It becomes political in a sense without really trying to be overtly that. It’s human, it’s complicated and deals with tragedy, sorrow and young lives put on the line in a way that you just don’t see every day. It’s got style. And substance. And might mess with your head in a constructive way. 

 

Honourable Mentions:

The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Lady Bird, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody

I could name a few others, but let’s draw the line here for now. Of course I will discover a few more masterpieces from 2018 eventually, which I’ve missed so far. Hopefully. Also, I am aware that none of my top ten this year were directed by women. ”Lady Bird”, mentioned honourably being the exception all in all. Yes, as I said, probably I have some more revealing discoveries coming up…

 

Last year’s top ten can be found here

Blades, Blondes, Beasts and Driving Babies – My Favourite Films of 2017

 

Once more again, into the breach… As usual, at bit late. And also as usual, I haven’t seen enough. Nevertheless, here they are, my favourite films of 2017 AD. Or to be specific, films that opened in my Scandinavian home country during this illustrious and turbulent year we just left behind. Be it in the cinemas, BluRay, Netflix, airplanes (in some cases, yes) or other venues – these films caught my attention more than others.

1. Under the Shadow (directed by Babak Anvari)

Could have been labeled ”Under the Radar”. Films like these have a tendency to just disappear in the onslaught of moving images constantly coming our way. That is a shame. This combination of modern history (the 1980’s Iran-Iraq war is used as a backdrop to great effect), understated absurdities and observations about women’s life in that time and place, and on top of it all a harrowing ghost story is irresistibly frightening. Thought-provoking. And frighteningly irresistible.

2. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve)

Back to the future. Again. One of the darker and least attractive visions of said future, even considering the competition (considering the official library of film dystopia already available) did result in one of the year’s most attractive films. Villeneuve might not have created one the most immediately commercially successful films of 2017, but maintains his standing as one of the truly visionary, exciting and genuinely interesting directors working today.

3. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright)

Mr Provocateur Bill Maher delivered an entertaining, harshly critical review of this film, and basically the whole ’drive really fast to get away from the cops’-genre on his show. Though personally I enjoyed this one far more than car-chase movies in general. The carefully selected soundtrack alone made it worthwhile. And the driving was… Special.

4. Get Out (Jordan Peele)

It’s tempting to recommend it with the caveat ’the less you know about the plot beforehand, the better’. Even the trailers seem to give away far too much information. Anyway, it’s about prejudices. And the misguided notion you might not have any. Delivered in a laughter-turns-to-screaming scenario that seriously will mess with your head in a number of ways.

5. Silence (Martin Scorsese)

Honestly, an ordeal you might not want to go through more than once. But at least do it once. It’s like the Scorsesian antithesis to the unbridled hedonism he wallowed in for three hours in ”The Wolf of Wall Street” (which I also might recommend for different reasons, but still don’t entirely adore from start to finish). If this is penitence, it would be comparable to Robert De Niro carrying his discarded mercenary armour uphill and downhill and uphill again for days, in ”The Mission”. Enjoy!

6. Okja (Joon-ho Bong)

Colourful action-satire-adventure flick dealing with genetic engineering, corporate politics, public relations in a postmodern era and the unbreakable friendship between a young girl and a giant pig. You don’t see something like this every day. From the guy who brought you the relentlessly cheerful train ride known as ”Snowpiercer”. This is, in comparison, slightly more optimistic.

7. Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi)

Feel-good modern history, telling the story of some unsung heroes in the American space program. Quite simply an uplifting story that never crosses the line into awkward sentimentality and exaggerated audience manipulation. It works, dammit!

8. Beauty and the Beast (Bill Condon)

This also works well, in the fantasy-for-all-ages genre. We know the story. They added something to it, not sure exactly what. But as I said, it…works fine.

9. Atomic Blonde (David Leitch)

Could be that it is just a little cold and distanced, eh? But is it exciting, entertaining, full of great 80’s pop songs and a anchored by a similarly great Charlize Theron as an enigmatic and emphatically independent spy in late Cold War Berlin? Yes, yes, yes and Oh yeah.

10. Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo)

Maybe another case of ’the less I tell you…’. Somehow a young, slightly lost woman (Anne Hathaway) moving back to her small, mostly downright boring hometown after a break-up registers a personal connection to a giant monster showing up in South Korea, wreaking havoc while the world watches. What’s it all about, really? Is there a deeper, existential meaning, another hidden layer to be found? Your guess is as good as mine. But it did keep my attention throughout until the spectacular finale.

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

 

The Lost City of Z (James Gray). Mysterious, a little too introvert and with some stretches but something you don’t see every day. An exploration worth taking part in.

Tour de Pharmacy (Jake Szymanski). Perhaps not strictly speaking a feature film. This HBO 40-minute satire on the wonderful world of bicycle is too outrageous to be ignored. From the folks who kindly brought you ”7 Days in Hell”, FYI.

Loving (Jeff Nichols). Extremely well acted and worthwhile subject matter. Could have used a little more temper and forward motion.

A Cure for Wellness (Gore Verbinski). Weird indeed. And difficult to forget entirely.

The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola). It looks great. The acting is quite distinguished. Somehow it didn’t keep me completely enthralled all the way, but deserves to be seen at least once.

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson). This particular franchise never had any real life-transforming impact on me. I tend to find most of the installments entertaining and… that’s that, basically. That said, this one impressed me more than I had expected going in. Especially the final 45 minutes or so, including the denouement, packed a punch I gotta give it credit for.

 

Oh, last year’s ranking is available here.

Superspies, Spectacular Designs and Suspicious Behaviour – My Favourite TV Shows of 2016

Simply put: Here are my personal favourites from last year’s vast supply of TV shows. Fiction category, to be precise. You might find a few that strictly speaking were released late 2015, but which I might have started watching in 2016, or whose presence here are justified for other reasons. All in all, so many shows with comparable qualities were available that I included twelve entries, followed by a couple of honourable mentions and such. Oh, I also mention the channels where I had the opportunity to watch these series here in Sweden. And at least one of the creators/showrunners.

1. ”The Americans” (Joseph Weisberg / Netflix). Four seasons have been broadcast in the US, right? Here in Sweden we are a bit behind… But the third season was the best so far. Who are we supposed to sympathize with, which side should we choose? All of them! No one! Just make sure the most important characters stay alive for a few more years. We need them.

2. ”Fargo” (Noah Hawley / HBO Nordic). I was kind of late discovering the first season, which I started watching sometime last winter, after which I went on to the next one. You know, where it’s all taking place during the late 1970’s. If the first round was really well made, the second one seemed more or less sensational to me. If only I could explain exactly why…

3. ”Penny Dreadful” (John Logan / HBO Nordic). Spectacular – and somewhat unexpected, since it wasn’t properly announced as such – finale concluded this gothic style ’let’s throw every conceivable horror character into the same bowl and do something much better with it than anyone has the right to expect’- show. A bombastic and bittersweet end to a creation which will be missed.

4. ”Game of Thrones” (David Benioff, D. B. Weiss / HBO Nordic). The latest two seasons haven’t been the definitive high points in the story arc so far, but even a slightly-below-maximum-round of this, TV drama’s biggest spectacle right now will still qualify as one of the best things to watch. And of course, the themes involved, concerning power struggles and what it takes to reach the top (or merely survive), will never grow old.

5. ”The Knick” (Jack Amiel, Michael Begler / HBO Nordic). Well, the second season was released late 2015 and finished late december then. Not sure if it was available here exactly at that time. Anyway, this Steven Soderbergh-directed hospital epic is sort of a unique little piece, that deserves repeated reminders of its existence. Brief, as it may have been. I am not certain anyone knows if there will be any more episodes. And maybe there doesn’t have to be. Clive Owen contributed a virtually magnetic presence during this whole purgatorial pilgrimage through trial and error in the world of medicine.

6. ”The Night Of” (Richard Price, Steven Zaillian / HBO Nordic). Innocent or not? And what happens in the process with a person who is believed to have committed a heinous crime and is being processed through the judicial system? And what about everyone else around? John Turturro was particularly memorable here, as a somewhat underrated and disrespected lawyer with a variety of personal problems to deal with.

7. ”Narcos” (Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro / Netflix). The hunt for the notorious drug runner Pablo Escobar continued, leading to a climactic denoument in this reality-inspired show, taking place in Colombia mostly in the early 1990’s. The question is how to go on after this, but apparently they have a plan. Other comparable cartels obviously existed – and exist.

8. ”Westworld” (Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy / HBO Nordic). Complicated and multi-layered storytelling that didn’t live up to everyone’s expectations. Mine were mostly met, even though they too were a bit unrealistic. Who am I? Who are you? What’s being human all about, really? Genuinely hoping for an even more elaborate and profound continuation eventually. Until then, some acting nominations for Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright would be in order. And that overall visual design has to be rewarded one way or another.

9. ”Billions” (Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin / HBO Nordic). How to get rich and letting others die in the process, sometimes literally. Damian Lewis versus Paul Giamatti as a successful but ruthless and sometimes reckless Wall Street investor and a stubborn State prosecutor, respectively, was an entertaining battle that we hopefully haven’t seen the last – or best – of, yet.

10. ”Black Sails” (Robert Levine, Jonathan E. Steinberg / HBO Nordic). They keep on sailing. Without apparently changing anything of vital importance in the concept that could make it more easily accessible and a smoother ride. Respectable, potent and powerful epic, starring some more or less mythological pirates in the Caribbean a couple of centuries ago.

11. ”Bloodline” (Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman / Netflix). The second season was perhaps generally regarded as less convincing and engaging in its plotline than the first, but seriously; what compelling characters, what a dense atmosphere, what captivating overviews of the Floridian landscape, what a Shakespearean family tragedy…

12. ”The Path” (Jessica Goldberg / HBO Nordic). A fictional cult. Internal intrigue. Nothing is completely self-evident. What exactly is their worldview and is it something society at large should fear or not? Constantly ambiguous and unpredictable interactions between the principal actors Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan and Hugh Dancy.

Honourable mentions: ”Orphan Black” (Netflix) might have been at its best in its very first season, but maintains a level of mischief and excitement that keeps it from losing its appeal for me. And Tatiana Maslany’s versatility has to be praised as well. Scifi show ”The Expanse” (Netflix) is somewhat difficult to grasp and accurate describe, but it does have its own voice and other attractive elements. Criminal drama ”Quarry” (HBO Nordic) seemed really promising at the beginning and I cannot quite explain why I haven’t finished the whole first season yet. But I will. ”Mr. Robot” (SVT – the Swedish non-commercial television broadcaster) might have made things more messy than they needed to be, but remains intriguing and compulsive nevertheless. ”Banshee” (HBO Nordic) has been a guilty pleasure for me a couple of years and managed to go out with a… Not sure if it’s a bang. But somehow true to itself. ”Midnattssol” (translates as ”Midnight Sun”, on SVT), a Swedish-French thriller set in the far north of Scandinavia was definitely uneven, but managed to capitalize on the magnificent natural surroundings of Kiruna, taking advantage of its exotic qualities and tell a story of broken people trying to solve what looks like a string of connected homicides with decidedly unpleasant methods involved.

 

Also available in Swedish at Fair Slave Trade, another blog forum of mine.

 

Intrepid Investigators, Intelligent Innovators and Insightful Invasions – My Favourite Films of 2016

So, these are the best ones. I think. From what I’ve seen in 2016. Also, bear in mind, these are films that opened in Sweden some time during the course of this past tumultuous year. In some cases, their world premieres took place in 2015. Just to clarify. And of course, I haven’t seen everything I should have. So, there you go. And here they are, my personal favourites: 

1. Spotlight (directed by Tom McCarthy)

A real old-fashioned drama about Old Media when it’s working they way it should. The truth just has to emerge, one way or the other. Behind one of the year’s least extravagant and eye-catching titles you will find of the most extraordinary and eye-opening pieces of storytelling. Comparable with ”All the President’s Men”, ”The Insider” and ”State of Play”. Actually superior to those distinguished works in some aspects. A true ensemble effort where the director seems to make himself invisible in order to emphasize everyone else – and the story.

2. Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle)

Not to be confused with a documented, definitve true story of the legendary innovator. But screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has done what he tends to do best: deliver almost annoyingly clever and multi-layered dialogue for intelligent but sometimes emotionally disabled characters, stuck within confined spaces.

3. Room (Lenny Abrahamson)

Claustrohopia, guilt, existential issues. What’s not to enjoy? And talking about confined spaces… A large portion of this film really does take place in one room. Is it above all a celebration of the power of imagination and creating your own world in order to endure extreme situations and prolonged suffering? Whatever it is, it works.

4. Where to Invade Next (Michael Moore)

Maybe not a straight documentary, devoted to presenting both sides of a story. Michael Moore – yeah, he’s back – is not even trying to do that. Who knew? But he cheerfully picks his favourite features from (mostly) European nations’ selections of benefits, and then proceeds to market those ideas to his own homeland. A kind of mischievous moviemaking that feels particularly welcome a year like the year that was.

5. The Revenant (Alejando González Iñárritu)

They really laboured in every possible way to make this film, and it shows, for better or worse. But the final result cannot be called anything else than a feat, an impressive ground-breaking work that needs to be rewarded. Like finally handing that Oscar to Leo. And putting it on this list.

6. Bridget Jones’s Baby (Sharon Maguire)

Not to be confused with ”Rosemary’s Baby”. Bridget is back! And we missed her, didn’t we?

7. The Big Short (Adam McKay)

OK, I still don’t get it, completely. How the world of finance works and what exactly went wrong with everything a few years ago. But they sure do try to educate us here. And entertain. Groovy.

8. Snowden (Oliver Stone)

Not as explosive as he used to be. More subtle. Still, Stone makes this highly relevant recent-history retelling pretty powerful. Once again, it’s not easy to figure out exactly how all of this works, in this case surveillance, but after this film you at least get the feeling it’s worth reflecting on.

9. Eye in the Sky (Gavin Hood)

A decision has to be made. Sooner rather than later. Literally, it has to do with life and death. But who exactly will have to decide? Again, surveillance is in focus, and specifically drones. ”Good Kill” raised the same issues recently, but here it’s even more intense and morally ambiguous.

10. The Nice Guys (Shane Black)

Back to the 70’s. And worn out private eyes trying to make a living. This is not the most pretentious production of 2016, but we need some of this stuff too sometimes, right?

 

Honourable Mentions:

Jason Bourne (Paul Greengrass), Hail, Caesar (Joel & Ethan Coen)

Disappointments:

Independence Day: Resurgence (Roland Emmerich)

You would think that 20 years of figuring out an idea for a sequel to one of the most financially successful cinematic projects ever, would result in something slightly more inspired than this. It didn’t.

Ben-Hur (Timur Bekmambetov)

I respect what they’re trying to achieve. It does have some good stuff in it, but as a whole it just never convinces me this remake was necessary.

The worst: The Do-Over (Steven Brill)

Dear Mr Sandler: You need therapy. Or a baby-sitter. Or both.

 

Films I wish I had seen already – but hopefully will sooner rather than later:

Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Son of Saul, A Bigger Splash, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Nocturnal Animals…

Films  from 2015 I regretted not having seen before this time last year, but had the opportunity to see later on and turned out to be more or less as good as I hoped: Sicario, Rosewater and Wild Tales.

 

By the way, here’s my ’Best of’-list from last year. Just because.

Madness. Machines. Martians. And more Madness – My Favourite Films of 2015

Another year, another realization of how little I found time to write. About really, really important thing like films, for example… Now, as we’ve crossed over from 2015 to 2016, I feel compelled to, at least briefly, reflect on which of the films released really mattered to me – and maybe which ones turned out to be disappointments, duds or doomed beyond the possibility of salvation. Admittedly, I didn’t see enough, but here are the ten best that opened in my home country Sweden in 2015 and I had the chance to form an opinion about:

1. Mad Max: Fury Road (Directed by George Miller).

Yeah, basically it’s just one crazy car chase through the desert. But what a chase it is… What an attractive, beautifully realized madness is accomplished when Dr Miller defies retirement age, common sense, laws of gravity and just lets go. This year’s adrenaline rush – and best film in general.

2. Ex Machina (Alex Garland)

Artificial intelligence and natural charisma makes for a great combination in this cautionary (or maybe inspiring) tale of how a manipulative magnate and inventor meets his match in his very own creation. Smart, stylish and seductive like few other films lately.

3. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Alejandro González Iñárritu

More inspiring madness when Michael Keaton tries to realize a risky stage production in a fascinating, unusually organic and vivid depiction of showbusiness-people and their fragile egos.

4. Beasts of No Nation (Cary Joji Fukunaga)

…and yet more madness, when ”True Detective”, and ”Sin nombre” director Fukunaga rushes head first into the jungle accompanied by a bunch of kids and a vision not everyone in his line of work would consider it worth the effort to commit to celluloid. This must have been a logistical nightmare. Also, often a nightmare to watch, but thank you Netflix for believing in it and bringing it out there.

5. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie)

Ethan Hunt meets his match in the form of Ilsa Faust (what a name!) in this fifth instalment of a franchise that improbably seems to get better every time. Of course, as a patriot I don’t mind there being two Swedish actors prominently placed in the midst of this particular form of madness. They even get to speak some Swedish here and there…

6. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)

Father James (the one and only Brendan Gleeson) is genuinely committed to taking care of his parish, but that ungrateful bunch of mostly bitter and resentful village people don’t seem equally eager to take care of him. Or commit to anything at all, unless – in one case – the expressed desire to actually assassinate the priest, for no apparent acceptable reason at all. Slow-burning existential piece that somehow manages to be unexpectedly funny as well.

7. Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn)

Hey, I do like the James Bond adventures and the somewhat serious turn they’ve taken with Daniel Craig as 007. Still, this naughty, unhinged homage to a slightly more boyish Bond era of the past made for exquisite entertainment with a lot of twists and turns – and some seriously over the top-ultraviolence presented with what’s usually referred to as tongue-in-cheek attitude. And buckets of blood.

8. The Theory of Everything (James Marsh)

Surprise! Stephen Hawking is actually a human being, like most of the rest of us! Imagine that! Well-written, well-directed, well-acted and well-just about everything-drama, about the supergenius scientist sage as a young man and a slightly older one. Not least seen from the perspective of his former wife, which adds a dimension at least I hadn’t come across before.

9. Kill the Messenger (Michael Cuesta)

It seems he really was on to something. Although not without his personal flaws, in the 1990’s investigative reporter Gary Webb started looking into shady connections between the CIA and drug cartels during the US proxy war against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua roughly a decade earlier. For some reason, that wasn’t a popular initiative among some influential segments of society. ’Based on a true story’-type drama/thriller of a kind I tend to appreciate, and we don’t see enough examples of these days.

10. The Martian (Ridley Scott)

And they say the kid in ”Home Alone” was in trouble. Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) finds himself abandoned on Mars and has to find a way to survive until someone maybe, possibly finds out he’s still there alive and might consider giving him a ride back home. Inspirational NASA promotional rather than intriguing existential stuff like last year’s ”Interstellar” but nevertheless entertaining adventure.

Honourable mentions: The Imitation Game, Spectre, Selma.

Most annoying failures department: Terminator: Genisys. What went wrong, exactly? Trying to do too much at the same time? Confusing unnecessarily complicated story structures with epic ambitions? Joking around too much instead of establishing a concinving, appropriately dark and doomsday-oozing atmosphere such as what once worked so well in this particular universe? All of the above, to begin with. I could also mention… No, that’s enough for now. But I am concerned, especially if there is more to come.

San Andreas. This one is simply too stupid for its own good. Although some of the special effects are decent enough. A pity you’re not sure you want these characters to survive this disaster flick. The precious few we are supposed to care about, that is.

Some of the ones I haven’t seen yet but I suspect could have been real contenders for the Top Ten: Foxcatcher, Rosewater, Wild Tales, A Most Violent Year, Sicario… and judging from other reactions, Star Wars Chapter… yeah, whatever chapter it is this time, even though I’ve never been part of the ”Star Wars changed my life from an early age”-crowd.

”The Bible”: Tense and Turbulent Testament, for Better or Worse

At least they seem to have had a decent special effects budget. The new dramatized Bible series, produced for History Channel by Mark Burnett and Roma ”Touched by an Angel” Downey is otherwise struggling with a certain turbulence of its own. And I’m not sure it could be characterized as a consistently well-structured drama, judging from the first 90-minute episode, shown on Swedish Television (SVT) yesterday. But it does make these old stories, familiar for many of us, come alive again.

To begin with, we are transported without warning into the raging seas, where Mr Noah relates the highlights of World history thus far, from the Garden of Eden until the start of the Flood. The story of Adam and Eve and their lack of proper clothing does often seem to present a dilemma for not least overtly Christian filmmakers, but now they’re able to deal with that little incident with the forbidden fruit in a few quick cuts and then move on rapidly, well, rush, really – to other supposedly more edifying stuff. Such as jealousy, rage and revenge, massacres of enemies and… you know the drill. Large swaths of the Old Testament are by definition, not entirely appropriate for children, but they’re also fascinating stories that tell us a great deal about the delicate art of being human, interpreted again and again by generation after generation in a significant percentage of the world as we know it.

This time the focus first really aims at Abraham and his younger relative Lot, including the destruction of Sodom, here presented with an added bonus in the shape of Mature Mutant Ninja Angels of Death. I thought I might have missed something last time I read the story, and as it turns out the series creators have (surprisingly enough) taken some certain dramatic licence here and there. I double-checked with Genesis chapter 19 and indeed the angels are there, and they do turn some Sodomite sinners blind, but they’re not explicitly armed and up for a swordfight in the Desert City of Doom. Just so you know. In the case of Abraham, his anguish over having to split up a family, being the father of two sons with two different mothers, is rather well and vividly portrayed in my opinion. although it ends too abruptly and less satisfying, considering the resonance the tale of Isaac and Ishmael still contains in today’s world.

The Lion’s share of high-pitched drama and climactic sequences is reserved for Moses. He’s not played by Charlton Heston this time around, but he’s still a pretty impressive presence (even if I can’t find the actor’s name either on Internet Movie Database nor anywhere else at the moment). The Exodus from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, have been strategically placed shortly before the end of the first episode and the following ‘previews of coming attractions’ such as King Saul and his off-and-on protegé David, Samson the hairy heavy-lifting guy and a certain Jesus. The budget seems overall to have been decent and production values convincing as a whole. The acting is a somewhat uneven thing, with some especially impressing performances that do stand out in the crowd. But remember it’s a cast with precious few household names involved.

And so, the decisive question: how often will Satan himself keep lurking around in the background, you know the guy some people in the blogosphere have identified as suspiciously resembling Barack Obama? I am quite sure I saw him somewhere already in the first part. The Evil One in his incarnation, by the way, is played by a Mr Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni who is not new to Biblical dramas, according to IMDb. And, if the producers of the show are to be believed, he’s not at all meant to make people think of the current US president, regardless of the speculations.

All in all, to be continued…

Note: This short review can also be found on russin.nu in a Swedish-language version.

Official site for the History Channel’s Bible series

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Note: This post has also been published at Yemenity2010. It has been slightly altered and updated in some details here. 

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