Here are my favourite ten films out of twenty odd that I’ve seen this year.
10 CATCH A FIRE (Phillip Noyce)
This didn’t get too much box office attention when it came out in the spring, hot on the heels of several other African set political thrillers (Last King Of Scotland, Blood Diamond). It’s an excellent tale of apartheid-era South Africa, and how an oil refinery worker becomes politicized after being falsely arrested, and joins the ANC. Written By Shawn Slovo, it’s an intelligent film that focuses on the antagonistic relationship between the ANC volunteer, played by Derek Luke, and the interrogator / investigator played by Tim Robbins. Both actors are outstanding – particularly Robbins, whose character shows glimpses of human decency and understanding beneath the monstrous, cynical, racist apologist for a rotten and corrupt system.
9 LAST KING OF SCOTLAND (Kevin MacDonald)
I was a child when Idi Amin became president of Uganda. He was portrayed as a kind of eccentric buffoon by the media, rather than a paranoid, genocidal despot. Forest Whittaker plays him as an almost schizophrenic character who could switch from playful clown to murderous psychopath in the blink of an eye. In some ways, the ostensible hero, played by James McAvoy, is just as obnoxious – an arrogant, self-righteous, deluded little prick who seems to think, as a ‘civilized’ white man he’s somehow above it all. The film almost revels in his come-uppance before it relents and allows him some sympathy.
8 THE COUNTERFEITERS / DIE FÄLSCHER (Stefan Ruzowitsky)
This German film tells the true story of how a group of Jewish concentration camp inmates were used to perfect a Nazi plot that involved counterfeiting British and American bank notes on a huge scale, and in doing so, causing irreparable damage to their economies. The team is led by a professional crook, Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) whose natural cynical opportunism gradually becomes infused with some kind of social responsibilty. It’s based on a book by Adolf Burger, a surviving member of the team. the dramatization is understated, with the true horror of the camps only coming through in glimpses (the counterfeiters were given privileges such as proper beds, and decent food, and were kept away from the rest of the inmates). Violence and the threat of execution are never far away, though, as the team tread a precarious line between co-operation and sabotage.
7 RATATOUILLE (Brad Bird)
Generic 3D animated movies appear by the truck load these days. It’s a joy, though, to have a master storyteller like Brad Bird at the helm. As with The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, Ratatouille has a plot which has actually had some thought put into it, great characters, good jokes and epic set-pieces. If that were not enough, it is visually stunning too. It’s far too good to be dismissed as a kid’s film – it’s got more heart than most so-called adult fare.
6 ZODIAC (David Fincher)
Zodiac is far more than just a serial killer movie / police prodedural. It’s more interested in the effects that a long unsolved case (the so-called Zodiac killer who murdered, seemingly at random, a number of victims during the late sixties and early seventies in San Francisco) has on those cops and journalists who become involved in the story. It has great ensemble acting, a genuinely intelligent script, and refuses to give easy, pat answers to the questions it raises.