zbov0Bj“Hi I’m Mr Narwhal from Elf, you may remember my loveable show-stopping turn in what has now firmly become part of the Christmas canon. There goes Buddy the Elf, leaving the North pole and up I pop saying “Bye Buddy, Hope you find your Dad!” And time was that I thought my scene stealing appearance would spin off into a film of my own, say The Amazing Adventures Of Mr Narwhal. I even wrote a treatment Mr Narwhal Goes To Washington, a nautical remake of Mr Smith Goes To Washington, where I would fillibuster to stop deep sea Atlantic dredging. But sadly it wasn’t to be, and John Favreau stopped returning my calls around the time he made Iron Man 2 (I know King Shark is a DC character and I’m not a shark but give a narwhal a break). So these days I can be found doing Harry Nilsson covers on Thursday nights in The Red Lion on Glendale.

And of course I am here to present the FreakyTrigger 20 – 11 countdown of movies. I don’t get out to the movies much (its the nose), but I’ve seen half of them on screener and they would have all been improved by the appearance of an anthropomorphic Narwhal. Damn my agent.”

Cheers Mr Narwhal, and I too can definitely see you fitting in our first film here.

20: A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence*

Roy Andersson’s third part of his “Living” trilogy: which are droll, elongated sketches winding in and out of each other slowly building into a thematic whole about – er – life. Its probably unfair to say that having seen the previous two I don’t need to see this one, but checking the trailer I’m pretty sure there has been no huge stylistic shift. Colour palate all greys, greens and browns. Long pauses. Absurdism. I’m sure its great, and I will catch up with it on a slow, Scandinavian night soon.

19: Spy

It could do with a better title, and is a touch overlong, but Spy is a solid action comedy, which spends a lot of time playing Melissa McCarthy against type until letting her develop into her comfort zone. Equally as impressive is how the film gets there with a clear commitment to positive humour, the comedy comes from situation and character and whilst there are plenty of cheap gags, they are firmly against the dicks. And Jason Statham fills that roll with aplomb.

18: While We’re Young

A strong Noah Baumbach comedy essaying generational anxiety and the ache of aging, and no longer being cool. In the process it does a good job at interrogating what cool is, and how pursuing it is a pretty vacuous aim. Happily taking potshots at both generations, Stiller and Driver are equally ridiculed; it is the epitome of the smart New York comedy which is actually about something. At least until the last few minutes when it destroys everything it previously appeared to stand for.

17: The Diary Of A Teenage Girl

A sexual coming of age film which is disturbing on paper, but less so on screen. Not because the relationship between Bel Powley’s Minnie and Alexander Skarsgard’s Munroe isn’t still strange and paeodophilic in nature, but because the tale is told from Minnie’s point of view who is using it as a stepping stone in her own sexual awakening. And by rooting it in that autobiographical position she ceases to be a victim, even if we can see the power plays going on, and an active participant who grows and eventually rejects what she manages to see as a childish thing. Kristen Wiig as Minnie’s mother is also tremendous, and the 70’s San Francisco art design (and animations) are all of a part to make this feel a completely real slice of life.

16: Birdman or (The unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)

There is one sequence in Birdman, where Michael Keaton’s Riggan confronts Lindsay Duncan’s New York Theatre critic where all of the praise for the film is justified. Duncan shows in her five minutes how to captivate an audience, how drive a point home about vanity of actors, or critics, of the whole ridiculous sideshow of naval gazing about high art and low art. Duncan and Keaton’s oppositional but well defined infantile behaviour, name calling, petty prejudice is a real cracking moment of cinema and is done with a camera in a bar and two actors elevating the material. The film surrounding it, with its diagetic jazz drumming, its pointless single take ellipsis, its multiple dumb endings and its grasp for any kind of verisimilitude because Keaton once played Batman is embarrassing tosh. A stinker.

15: Appropriate Behaviour

A droll little comedy which lopes along and is carried completely by the charms of its lead actor, writer and director Desiree Akhavan. Luckily these charms are manifold, she is self-deprecating, bitingly funny, sexually open and calamitous and is more than able to create an atmosphere of melancholy during farce, and humour during the worst drama. It particularly manages to conjure up that horrific sense of neediness around a break up, and slowly deconstruct the desperation as the rest of the world continues to be crazy around you. One of those polished indie gems that you walk out smiling and wanting the Google the lead to see what else she has done (lots of web series is the answer).

14: Duke Of Burgundy

Dreamy, dreamlike love story which occupies a space between a 70’s Euro-porn pastiche and a very sophisticated psycho-sexual drama. It posits an all female secret valley of researchers who live in beautiful houses, in glorious countryside, soundtracked perfectly with the right sense of menace. And the snake in this garden of Eden is love or tedium. What happens in an S&M relationship when the sadist isn’t really into it any more. One of a number of films this year where the satisfaction comes from seeing a directors vision be completely and sumptuously executed.

13: It Follows
Horror movie fatigue leads generally to two modes of appreciation. First the slapping on the back of a film which has no new tricks but employs its tricks classically very well. So the haunted house up to elevens of The Conjuring was seen as a return to form for the genre post torture porn. But there is also subversion of traditional tropes, or playing in a sandpit just adjacent. Here the classic Final Girl trope (the virgin survives) is upended because here is a monster you literally pass on via sex. Like Ringu it plays with the morality of passing on something deadly, with a second killer idea. Its monster follows you, slowly, inexorably (again borrowing zombie/mummy tropes with a bit of shapeshifting). Some people complained it didn’t follow its own rules, I disagree but more importantly it is a genuinely affecting piece of film-making (it know We Follow too), with smart teenagers adrift in an seemingly timeless Detroit.

12: Selma

Of last years Oscar batch (or Oscar snubbed batch) Selma is in many ways the most traditional. It tells a complex story in a straightforward narrative fashion, simplifying where it needs to, to successful recreate important moments in US history. It knows who its hero is, Martin Luther King, and despite not being able to use any of his speeches conjures up a very human portrayal. And whilst there isn’t much to do except tell the story, and perhaps ask some questions about how far we have actually moved in the interim, staging the marches and creating that tension is more than just pointing and shooting. Ava DuVernay assembles a great cast, stages the big and small action with flair and has a point of view.

11: Whiplash

Technically extremely adept obsession movie about a perfectionist jazz drummer and his abusive and bullying teacher. When you are watching it the drive from both Miles Teller and J.K.Simmons convince you that there may be something in this, that pushing a player to destruction is the only way to create fine art. This feeling doesn’t last, and I think isn’t supposed to last, and there are two hints to this. First, in the final performance, when Teller goes hell for leather, we don’t actually hear the audiences reaction (and a ten minute drum solo? At the Lincoln Centre?) But more importantly that the artistic endeavour we are supposed to care about is jazz drumming.