11 January, 2011

2010: Ten Best Films

Here’s the only top ten that really matters, then, as Colin and James offer their respective five best films.

Over to Colin first:

5. TRON: Legacy (2011)
Yes, yes – I know it’s not officially a 2010 release this side of the pond, but I’m just so gosh-darn excited about the release, I can’t help but mention it. It’s been so long coming, it could have feasibly been titled ‘28 Years Later’ and with budget running at an eye-watering $300 million, it had better be unrelentingly awesome. In the original TRON of 1982, hacker Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), in an attempt to prove that his company stole his ideas, breaks in to their corporate system and – to cut a long story short – gets sucked in to the system and forced to compete for his life in gladiatorial games. Fast forward to 2010 and his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund), investigating his father’s mysterious disappearance, does exactly the same thing. Father and son must escape the clutches of the computer holding them prisoner, and this is essentially all TRON: Legacy is about. I frankly don’t care if it’s light on story – the original was a joy, and I’ve waited so long for the sequel I’m going to like it even if it’s utter hogwash. So there.

4. The Expendables
I secretly hoped that this would not be very good, just so I could sit back with a smug expression, twisting my moustache and saying: “I told you it would be rubbish”. It wasn’t. Sure, it’s not going to win awards for story complexity or character depth but I don’t think for a moment that was ever up for discussion. Sly Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren and many other movie tough guys – including a short appearance from a certain California governor – are a guns-for-hire band of men who do other people’s dirty work for them, usually with explosive consequences. Throw into the mix a pair of foxy ladies (Giselle Itié and Charisma Carpenter) and you’re pretty much guaranteed a box office return. I won’t insult your intelligence by outlining the story, but you know what to expect. If that’s your thing, you’ll love The Expendables. If not, don’t bother – simple.

3. Kick-Ass
Quite apart from the novelty of seeing Nicolas Cage finally make a decent movie, this is a well-made romp in good old comic book style. Modelled on the Marvel Comics character and including the now-obligatory cameo appearance by Marvel supremo Stan Lee, this story follows the elevation of an ordinary schoolboy Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) from nobody to renowned super-hero. Unlike Defendor (see my number-one choice), Kick-Ass plays purely for laughs and action. Kick-Ass – by dint of the fact that he’s really not very good at the whole superhero thing, picks up a partner in crime-fighting, Hit Girl (Chloë Moretz) and her father, Big Daddy (Cage), who have more than a few tricks up their sleeve. A good, solid comedy action flick with its tongue firmly in its cheek.

2. Inception
I suppose no roundup of 2010 would be complete without giving Inception a mention – even if it’s only because it’s directed by Christopher Nolan, and there’s no new Batman film to get all excited about. A positively stellar cast (Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine, Marion Cottilard and many more) do a first-rate job of bending reality in this story set in a dream within a dream. A confusing premise, but expertly handled by all, managing to be intelligent without being too clever and delivering some fast-paced thrills and spills. It really doesn’t make a lot of sense halfway in, but you’re rewarded at the end with a quite marvellous denouement.

1. Defendor
Practically nobody saw this film, which for me constitutes an utter tragedy. The only big name on the credit sheet is Woody Harrelson, who delivers what is for me one of his finest roles to date. Harrelson plays Arthur Poppington, the archetypal mild-mannered man who has a secret identity as the champion of the unfortunate and the nemesis of criminals – Defendor. It is essentially a comedy, but the sheer heart that Harrelson puts into his role, and some solid support from the likes of Kat Dennings and Sandra Oh raises this movie way above expectations. Burlesque, often dark and sometimes moving, this debut by Canadian writer/director Peter Stebbings really is a must-see. The holiday season is upon us, so put it on your gift list.

And now James:

5. The A-Team
This is my fun choice, OK? Fun, fun, fun, because it’s great to see a remake come together. Director Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces (2006)) first-time writer (Brian Bloom) and an ensemble cast led by Liam Neeson as Hannibal Smith combine to offer an action flick that engages guts, brains and funny bone.

4. Let Me In
And a horror remake, praise the Lord, that more than does justice to the original, Tomas Alfredson’s Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) (2008), itself a brilliant riff on the vampire genre – Cloverfield (2008) director Matt Reeves delivers a tale of puppy love with real bite that’s subtle, scary and tender.

3. Green Zone
Ahead of the number one film, another that had no problem pointing the finger at those in power, and quite right too – Matt Damon delivers his most adult performance to date as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who’s in the field following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, looking for the much-touted ‘weapons of mass destruction’, whose purported existence provided President George W. Bush with the only excuse he and Tony Blair needed for US and UK involvement. But, after a third raid on a target that’s cited as being a WMD ‘hot’ spot turns up nothing, Miller starts to do his own research, and finds that turning over stones can be very risky. Director Paul Greengrass manages the rare feat of combining exciting action-film sensibilities with docu-drama intensity, and the result is a refreshingly honest and intelligent examination of the heights and depths of corruption.

2. Toy Story 3
And this so nearly took top spot – nobody really believed that Pixar could extend their most succesful franchise’s charm for a third episode, but that’s exactly what they did, with this hilarious and deeply moving account of what happens when the toys finally get put away for good, from Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 2 (1999)), along with writers Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine (2006)) and John Lasseter (Cars (2006)) If you don’t cry at the end, you’re not human.

1. The Ghost Writer
Roman Polanski’s back, and he’s not taking any prisoners, political or otherwise. This was a trenchant and remarkably powerful study of just how dangerous things can get behind the scenes in the corridors of power – Ewan McGregor is ‘The Ghost’ of Robert Harris’s adaptation of his own novel, who’s assigned to knock the memoirs of former ‘craze’ prime minster Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) into shape and who quickly realizes that a great deal more than his reputation may be at stake. It lifted six major-category gongs at the 2010 European Film Awards, and your ‘pundit par excellence’ would hazard a guess that it won’t do too bad come Oscar time, either. Not sure whether Roman will thank me for that prediction, but I am certainly grateful to him for what was easily the year’s best film.

13 December, 2010

Interview: Ewan McGregor

This article, by Federico Grandesso, was originally published in Bespoken Magazine by Scabal, and is reproduced here with their kind permission. To enjoy your copy, subscribe at

Scottish actor and icon Ewan McGregor, who was awarded Best European Actor at the 2010 European Film Awards for his performance in The Ghost Writer (2010) talks about his acting adventures.

Known across the galaxy since his role as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Ewan McGregor has gone from strength to strength as an actor. Moving from sharp, unforgiving interpretations in Shallow Grave (1994) and Trainspotting (1996) to seductive romantic roles in Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Down With Love (2003) he has seldom been off our screens, and has worked with some of the world's finest directors, including Danny Boyle, Tim Burton, George Lucas, Woody Allen, Ron Howard and, most recently, Roman Polanski in The Ghost Writer (2010), which was adapted from the Robert Harris novel.

McGregor plays 'The Ghost', the writer of the title, who lands the opportunity to write the memoirs of renowned UK former prime Minister Adam Lang (and any similarities to Tony Blair are mere coincidence, of course) played by Pierce Brosnan. But writing for a living can be very dangerous, as 'The Ghost' is about to discover.

Amid all the acclaim, we caught up with Ewan for a chat.

Bespoken: Does the location of a prospective movie play an important part in your choice of scripts, as you are well known as a man who loves to travel? Also, what was your best recent on-set experience?
Ewan McGregor: I have never had the opportunity to choose the locations for my movies, and no, it's other considerations that determine my choice. Yes, I love to travel, but I do have to say that I would be glad sometimes to have the opportunity to work at home, because it can be hard to be on location far away for so long. In The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) the atmosphere on set was great because the director Grant Heslov loves to work at a certain rhythm and doesn't go for megatakes - two or three are enough, which is good, because I have had bad experiences in the past when I have had to work for an entire day on a very short scene. I loved working with George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey. We laughed a lot, had a lot of fun and, don't forget, we also worked with professional goat actors, who were fantastic! [laughs]

How do you feel about your profession?
I've always loved this job, and my passion for what I do is actually growing. What I don't like are the moments when you have to wait - not only when we are actually working on set, when make-up has to be done or when a scene is being set up, but also the gaps between a great movie and the next one. You have to wait a long time to achieve a perfect interpretation and, in our job, the chances to work on ambitious and interesting projects are rare. Sometimes, you have to wait for years.

Some of your fellow actors, such as Sean Penn, are politically engaged. What about you?
Not really. To begin with, I have never been in the army, but I have a brother who, until two years ago was in the RAF, flying Tornadoes in war zones. My only experience of conflict was the 48 hours I once spent in Baghdad Airport. I met a lot of soldiers, and I was very surprised at how young they were, but I also left that airport feeling very proud, as these guys were doing something I could never have done. I didn't want to stay in that place one minute more than was absolutely necessary.

Was there anything about Roman Polanski's methods that particularly stood out?
One day on set, and we had been shooting for some weeks at this point, Roman came up to me and said: 'I have an idea for the ending,' and he described it to me, and I thought it was just amazing. It's a beautiful, very clever shot, in which I don't think the camera moves apart from following my character through a door and then it's static. It's a beautiful piece of storytelling, classic filmmaking, classic Polanski. You can imagine other directors needing 50 shots for the sequence in question, and he just pans the camera and leaves us to imagine what's going on offscreen, which is marvellous.

In The Ghost Writer, you also had the chance to work with Pierce Brosnan. How was that?
Pierce is an actor I've always followed - there's a handful of other actors that you wonder if one day you might work with, and Pierce was always one of those. I've always enjoyed watching him. My experience in The Ghost Writer was unique, in that I was there from the beginning to the end, and I was always there, ­I was always on set. I became like one of the crew, really, whereas other actors would come in and out. But for the first week or so, I was mainly on my own. I just did all the stuff with 'The Ghost' on my own, before Pierce arrived, and he was tremendous to work with, simple as that.

Tell us how it was, really, to work with Polanski?
I only spoke to Roman on the phone before I met him in Germany, because he was in Switzerland at the time and I was shooting The Men Who Stare at Goats in New Mexico and Puerto Rico, and I was unable to get to Europe, so we didn't actually meet before I turned up. That day, I was doing costume fittings when he came in, and as you know he's an iconic man and a legendary director so, for an actor, it was quite nerve-wracking to meet him. He's like a perfect host before you get on set, but he's two very different men [laughs]. When you're off set, he's preparing you coffee and making sure everyone's alright and then when you start working, be it on the text or actually on set, he's very direct. His direction is not guarded or sugar-coated in any way, ­he's really quite brusque with it. But his style is always very interesting, and it's no coincidence that he's considered to be a great movie director. On set, you just have to listen to him and, more often than not, in fact all the time, he is right. It's kind of annoying, but when you follow his instructions, it's like 'Oh, yeah, he's right about that.' Actors are quite sensitive, myself included, and when I tried something out, if Polanski didn't like it, he wouldn't worry about hurting your feelings. But I have to say that I realized very quickly he's like that with everybody - he directed the props guy, the painter and the set dresser in exactly the same way. In fact, all of our camera crew was Polish, he often hung out with them between scenes and you could hear them telling jokes in Polish. They were his buddies, but he was toughest with them when he was directing! [laughs]