The Babadook

SPOILERS AHEAD

From the first time I saw the trailer (at the cinemas, before watching ‘The Guest’) to re-watching it on YouTube, skimming Rotten Tomatoes and looking at all the poster art, the only thing I prepared for with ‘The Babadook’ was to be terrified.

I am absolutely appalling in coping with horror films, hence my first reaction at the end being “I thought it’d be even scarier.” To be clear, I spent more than half the film fidgeting, rising and sinking in my seat, raising my eyes above my glasses so that I could blur the terror out. This was the mindset I’d been in for months, and why I’d avoided watching it for so long.

Then I got home. After quickly turning on all the lights and opening cupboards and doors, I started thinking about ‘The Babadook’. Reading about it, it dawned on me how damn brilliant this film actually is. It’s as good a take on depression, grief and honest parenting dilemmas as I’ve seen. All these real-world horrors in the guise of an entertaining scare-fest is one of its best magic tricks.

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2014: My year in film

A list seen this year in San Francisco, London, New York, Sydney, and occasionally, VOD and mid-air.

Initial tweet-reactions to the “5 star” films included. Note to self: read a thesaurus.

In alphabetical order, by star rating…

5 star

20,000 Days on Earth
The mind of Nick Cave brought to us in spectacular, hybrid fashion. Haven’t enjoyed a film as much this year!

Boyhood
“Straight up, nothing fancy” Hawke’s character says at one point. It’s true. It’s also a near-perfect, natural time capsule of moments growing up.

Citizenfour
A most essential and terrifyingly timely film that needs to be seen. Snowden, Greenwald and Poitras are heroes.

Finding Vivian Maier
I’m filled with sadness that Ms. Maier didn’t get to see how the world has embraced her work. A lost talent and complex personality packaged up to be narratively and emotionally as strong as anything this year.

Foxcatcher
An unforgiving tragedy helmed by a master storyteller in Bennett Miller. Tatum and Carell are unrecognisably good.

Ida
Frame after frame of black & white beauty that’s soft, still and restrained. I marvel at Pawlikowski’s confidence and vision.

Interstellar
Unparalleled as pure spectacle and wonder. Nolan’s ambition overshadows any faults. McConaughey’s acting, the sound design, and editing made it even richer as a cinematic experience on second viewing.

Hoyte van Hoytema must have watched 2001 many a time! Even Zimmer’s score had some welcome unfamiliarity to it.

Life Itself
A touching tribute to a great man and all he loved. Thank you, Steve James. And thank YOU, Roger. The entire theatre laughed and cried in unison. Two thumbs up.

Nightcrawler
Maniacal, desperate, living the American Dream by way of network television. Gyllenhaal continues his incredible run. The city of L.A., score, humour and editing all stand out.

Only Lovers Left Alive
Simply oozes style and wickedness. The soundtrack will have no equal this year. An instant all-time favourite.

The Double
Offbeat brilliance from Richard Ayoade. Jesse Eisenberg better get an Oscar nom. A fantastic double act.

The Square
There won’t be a braver, more important film this year.

Two Days, One Night
Marion Cotillard gives *the* performance of the year. Completely transformative. A masterwork in realism.

Under the Skin
Singular, seductive, striking sci-fi. Wow to the score, cinematography and Johansson’s all-consuming presence.

Whiplash
Phenomenal! J.K. Simmons is terrifying. Miles Teller’s energy and intensity is out of this world. What a star! The only thing to do at the end is stay sunken in your seat and clap. That rhythm is playing in my head and I can’t stop it.

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The Last of Us

My last console was the original PlayStation. I’ve been a PC gamer since then, up until moving last year and leaving my desktop behind. Playing ‘The Last of Us’ on a PS3 tonight for the first time was a cinematic experience.

The storytelling. The sound design. The camera direction. The score. The use of vibration in the controller to convey certain things. The “cut scenes” are perfectly blended into gameplay, and I got that same feeling I did when playing ‘Bioshock’ for the first time, where I was watching the opening video and then nothing happens for a while. Then I realised the game had kicked in. The opening to ‘The Last of Us’ is that on steroids.

The emotion I felt was very real. The tenseness is on par with any film or TV show, and moreso because you’re in control of a character and the camera. I hesitantly approached each window or door, turning the camera at times so I wasn’t facing the window, avoiding the potential crash of glass. I was projecting my own fear and heightening the suspense due to my paranoid direction.

Even the gameplay tutorial is done in the most minimal, intuitive way possible.

I had to stop playing to write this down. From what I’ve read, I’m guessing my mind will continue to be blown.

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Enemy

‘Enemy’. An intriguing premise knocked out of the park by Villeneuve! Hypnotic, suspenseful, original. Shot and scored magnificently!

Two shots of glimmering eyes in darkness are absolute stand-outs. One of Gyllenhaal, another of a “woman” walking upside down. The silhouettes, and swooping, sepia-washed city all create an inquisitive, unnerving atmosphere that’s backed up by a lovely score. Gyllenhaal is doing wonders by portraying two characters in the most nuanced of ways.

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12 O’Clock Boys

’12 O’Clock Boys’. Tragic as both a character study and broader social commentary on what people live for in their day-to-day struggles. Dangerous escapism as seen by outsiders looking for the temporary kind is darkly ironic.

Lotfy Nathan found someone special in Pug. Bright, ambitious, destined for doom. Nature nor nurture have been particularly good to him as a young boy, and it doesn’t look like that cycle is stopping anytime soon for him and others in Baltimore.  What’s been eating away at me ever since I walked out of the theater is how much Nathan’s decision to document Pug’s quest drove him even further. Would he have done everything he did if a camera wasn’t on him? The ending seemed particularly exploitative.

You see the pursuit of power, fame and notoriety, driven all the more by social media. The film ending where it does, I’m afraid of what effects this will have on the next generation of Baltimore’s 12 O’Clock Boys.

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2013: My year in film

A list seen this year in Australia, Austin, New York and San Francisco, hence some 2012 releases making it in.

Warning: I rate films too highly. Take it as a relative measure. I begrudgingly preface this post every year with the same message, in various word lengths.

In alphabetical order…

Image

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Quite simply, everything works. A character-driven, brooding, complex, Malick-esque romance.

All Is Lost
A near-wordless marvel! Robert Redford’s physical, nuanced performance commands admiration. The score and sea, worthy allies.

An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story
An unbelievable true story that grew off the screen into a once-in-a-lifetime, shared experience at SXSW, with the man himself being there.

Before Midnight
The perfect ending to the perfect trilogy on love.

Blancanieves
The lighting, the symmetry, the composition. Just, wow. One of the most beautiful looking films I’ve had the pleasure of watching.

For Those in Peril
There’s no way a debut has any right to be this good in nearly every respect. Haunting, assured filmmaking, with an ending that’s hugely rewarding, yet ambiguous. I do remember screaming “FUCK YEAH!” I had the same reaction to ‘Take Shelter’.

Gravity
If cinema is about the moving image, this embodies it to its fullest. Like nothing I’ve seen. Cuaron and Lubezki are gods.

Her
Thank you, Spike Jonze, for an utterly brilliant, exploratory look at our future, and the collision of humanity and technology. Joaquin Phoenix confirms yet again that he’s one of the best actors going around. Scarlett Johannson’s voice acting, a joy.

Inside Llewyn Davis
My favourite character and performance of 2013. Oscar Isaac is a revelation. I felt hopeless and sad.

Saving Mr. Banks
Very, very special. No expectations going in, floored on every count. Hit me harder than anything this year.

Upstream Color
Incredibly thought provoking, visceral and hypnotic. Carruth’s writing, score and direction are all stunning. The sound design melds right in too. The film that stuck with me most.

What Maisie Knew
Emotionally turbulent in the best possible way. Onata Aprile gives a most captivating performance.

Zero Dark Thirty
A remarkable, gripping achievement in storytelling. A rollercoaster through Jessica Chastain’s head and a quietly devastating ending.

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Her

‘Her’. Thank you, Spike Jonze, for an utterly brilliant, exploratory look at our future, and the collision of humanity and technology. Joaquin Phoenix confirms yet again that he’s one of the best actors going around. Scarlett Johansson’s voice acting, a joy.

Writing feelings on behalf of other people, programmatic feelings, faking feelings. This runs throughout, begging the question of what an authentic feeling is, and how much of a one-way, need-based thing it is at times.

And from a purely HCI perspective, ‘Her’ makes me a believer in voice interactions. It’s a deceptively simple take on technology that’s not constantly in your face via pieces of different size glass. No radical Minority Report hand-waving dominating here.

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