Jan 16

The Freaky Trigger Movie Poll 2015: #20 – #11

Do You See + FT13 comments • 826 views

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.


  1. 1
    weej on 17 Jan 2016 #

    ‘A Pigeon Sat…’ was my choice, my only one in fact, since I couldn’t think of any other films worth voting for. Only blockbusters usually make it to Guangzhou, and we don’t have time to go to the cinema, even if we had the inclination. The only reason this was on was that the art gallery whose estate we live on had a one-off screening followed by a talk in Chinese to explain what we had just seen. It was a complete revelation to me. I loved watching Bergman, Malle and Jarman films on my old black and white TV in the 90s and they inspired me to go to film school, but when I arrived there everyone else wanted to be Scorsese and all the lectures were on film theory in its dullest incarnation, so art film was out on both counts, and I gave up on films entirely for a decade or so. ‘A Pigeon…’ took me back to that black & white TV, it had that same thrill I had watching Jubilee or Zazie for the first time, and it’s been running round my head for the last three months. This last year has been a really tough one, and finding this film was a rare high point, a reminder of what cinema can do. I realise I’m circling round giving a review here and just talking about myself, but it seems too special and personal to do anything else, sorry.

  2. 2
    Mark M on 17 Jan 2016 #

    As often, although serious film
    criticism tends to pretend it doesn’t exist, expectation plays a part. I saw Birdman half anticipating hating it, and didn’t (despite, yes, all those bloody endings). Whereas enough sane people convinced that the trailer for Whiplash was deceptive in making it look like a terrible film. Alas, I loathed the whole movie every bit as much.

    You’re totally right about the ending to When We’re Young – a baffling directorial decision.

  3. 3
    Mark M on 18 Jan 2016 #

    Appropriate Behaviour I enjoyed, but thought it covered very familiar territory without adding much.

    It Follows was top of my ballot – I think it works as both a horror movie and dreamy art film.

  4. 4
    Pete Baran on 18 Jan 2016 #

    I think your absolutely right about expectation, and mindset, around films. There are definite kinds of films (imaginative indie horror movies in particular) that just have to turn up and be OK for me to like them. Whereas anything at the moment labelled as Oscarbait has to work hard against my prejudice. Appropriate Behaviour (a bit like Obvious Child last year) I was inclined to like and then pleased that it was so good. And everyone wants something a bit unique on their ballot, right?

  5. 5

    weirdly — in a wider culture that’s insistent abt spoilers — professional reviewers are almost required to have absorbed expectation… it’s not impossible to review a film cold if you see as few as i do, but yr basic journalistic background knowledge entirely ensures there’s a built-in mindset, some wd say hivemindset, the moment you actually do a bit of pre-screening prep

    (= i don’t think i’m a bad critic but in this sense i’m a terrible reviewer, given that i’m now and then paid to be one) (by ppl who do know that i’ve rarely seen more than a tiny fraction of the films released in any given year; my USP is my slackjawed virgin branepan i guess) (my USB used to be a small yellow duck but i lost it)

  6. 6
    Ewan on 18 Jan 2016 #

    Some of my highest rated films have shown up in this list, though upon reflection on the past year’s films, I could not bring myself to include any jazz drumming.

  7. 7
    Mark M on 18 Jan 2016 #

    Re5: Yes, obviously there’s a internal critical monologue that shapes certain people’s responses to films (and other art) in a way that I believe is different from others. Getting paid to write about that stuff then amplifies that – you’re looking for boxes to put it in, points of reference and comparison, etc…

    If I’ve decided I’m likely to want to see a film, I do then try to read as little as possible about it beforehand. Am always baffled by people who read press notes or BFI handouts BEFORE the film. I treasure those times I’ve been to a press screening knowing pretty much nothing beyond the title.

    (Got to the end credits of The Revenant today and went, ‘Oh, right, that was Tom Hardy’…)

    Re4: I get what you mean. (I liked Obvious Child a bunch more than Appropriate Behaviour though).

  8. 8
    Andrew Farrell on 18 Jan 2016 #

    I had the same revelation at the end of the Revenant, but my excuse is that I saw it at a mystery movie – the group that I was with thought it might be The Short Con / Spotlight / Creed, and the atmosphere when those were the trailers shown before was electric.

    (I am also not above slightly inflating obscure stuff – oh you didn’t see The Lobster?)

  9. 9
    Cathy on 18 Jan 2016 #

    Intrigued to hear why Appropriate Behavior covers “very familiar territory”…, Mark? I mean, other than being an indie dramedy set in New York. Autobiographical films centred on a queer immigrant woman protagonist don’t exactly flood the market…

  10. 10
    Mark M on 18 Jan 2016 #

    Re9: If you’re saying, have I ever seen all those particular elements in one movie before, then no, probably not. But most of the components – eg, the stuff with her family comparing her unfavourably to her brother the doctor, the girlfriend who wants her to come out, etc etc – plus your basic arty-girl-trying-to-get-her-head-together-in-NYC thing*, all made it feel like I’d seen it before (and often a bit better).

    *Frances Ha/Obvious Child/The Exploding Girl/Margaret/Tiny Furniture and so on.

  11. 11
    Cathy on 19 Jan 2016 #

    Seems a bit like a case of, men get to rehash the same themes over and over again and we are all supposed to watch them as ‘universal’ but heaven forbid there are more than three films about young women set in the same city of 8 million people. Apart from Frances Ha which did seem quite derivative, the films you’ve just listed are all very different from each other!

  12. 12
    Mark M on 19 Jan 2016 #

    Re11: Yes, they are different from each other in all sorts of ways, but they share a common set of problems and broad setting, some of the same targets. As I’ve actively chosen to see all those films, I think it would be odd to characterise me as wanting there to be fewer or no more of them. I just thought that Appropriate Behaviour, which was pretty good, could have been a bit fresher, a bit sharper, that’s all.

  13. 13
    xyzzzz__ on 21 Jan 2016 #

    Seen 20 and 17 from this batch.

    re: 7 – I am one of those people that read the leaflet before the film. I seldom care for finding out what happens. Teller not Tale.

    Appropriate Behaviour might have been the most promising trailer that I then never got to see.

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