My Top TV Shows of 2014

These are my top 13 (random number I know) TV shows of 2014. I must stress that some highly-praised shows such as Mad Men and Orange is the New Black are missing. This is for the simple reason that I haven’t seen them yet. If I had, maybe they would be on here. Maybe not. Enjoy!

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  1. The Bridge

Season 2 once again features excellent central performances from Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia, and a Rubik’s cube of a plot that keeps everyone guessing right until the end. That said, with a season 3 on the way, the writers will have to take care not to trivialise Helin’s autistic Saga, and allow her to be reduced to a mere punch line character.

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  1. Sherlock

Just how was that ending of Series 2 going to be explained? Whether you like the answer or not, Series 3 returned with an altered direction and purpose, yet the intricacy of the plots remained and the writing was as snappy and witty as ever – so much fun to watch.

Keeley Hawes as Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton in Line Of Duty. Photograph: Steffan Hill/BBC

  1. Line of Duty

Along with The Fall, one of the shining examples of British TV’s new wave of police crime dramas. Season 2, continuing the theme of corruption, features a monumental, chameleon-like performance from Keeley Hawes at the centre of an utterly compelling plot.

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  1. Braquo

Like The Shield but in France, Braquo‘s third season 3 is rumoured to be its last. If that is the case it will be a shame as there seems to be further scope to explore this tale of fatalism and fraternity within the Parisian police force.

Emmy Nominations Snubs Surprises

  1. The Americans

Think Breaking Bad meets Homeland. An entertaining and gripping show that, if you can forgive the implausibility, is deeper and has more to say than its action-thriller persona suggests. Season 2 twisted and turned before nicely setting up an interesting new story arc for the upcoming season 3.

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  1. Fargo

Like everyone else who’s seen/loved the original Coen Brothers’ film, my dismay at the news of a TV series reboot knew no bounds. So, imagine my surprise that upon seeing said TV show it a) wasn’t a complete sacrilegious mess and b) was actually, very, very good. It uses only ‘the world’ of the original film version, and not the actual characters and features standout performances from Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman and Martin Freeman.

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  1. True Detective

Addictive and compulsive viewing, never more so than during episode 4’s six-minute long tracking shot, which is hands down the television scene of the year. The acting is supreme, and although the metaphysical and philosophical slant can at times seem a bit ropey, the writing and tone of the show is largely spot on.

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  1. Masters of Sex

Not only does the show feature some of the best performances on TV today, it also has some of the most interesting and multi-layered female characters. Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen will gain most of the plaudits, and rightly so, but Julianne Nicholson’s performance is heartbreaking and mesmerising in equal measure. Episode 3 – ‘Fight’ is a particular highlight, in the vein of Mad Men‘s ‘The Suitcase’ or Breaking Bad’s ‘Fly’.

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  1. The Leftovers

In a time where audiences are given everything on a plate and ambiguity seems a distant concept, how refreshing to find a well-made, intriguing show that ends with just as many, if not more, questions than it started with. An enthralling new show about how people react when their lives are irrevocably altered.

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  1. Homeland

Liberated by a change of plot focus, Season 4 was the best so far. It had some of the most tension-filled scenes seen on screen this year and enough double and triple crosses to make your head swim, not to mention another ferocious performance from Claire Danes.

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  1. Game of Thrones

An excellent season of a show which, at its peak, remains unparalleled, particularly in terms of its ballsiness and desire to never let anyone (characters or audiences) feel too comfortable. Shocking, gory deaths aside, season 4 also had plenty of feeling and genuine emotion in a number of episodes.

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  1. House of Cards

After a solid first season, season 2 really takes off. Machiavellian machinations galore and one moment in particular, so jaw-dropping, that it rivals even Game of Thrones. That aside, there may not be a more complex and intricately portrayed relationship currently on TV, than that of Francis and Claire. The mind boggles at what season 3 holds in store.

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  1. The Fall

Very rarely is a show afforded the time to simply exist and develop naturally. Yet in series 2 of The Fall, that’s what we’re treated to. Nothing much happens in the way of narrative progression or action, we’re simply allowed to watch as a game of cat and mouse is methodically and meticulously played out, often inside the heads of DSI Stella Gibson and Paul Spector (towering performances from Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan, particularly in the Heat-esque scene of the final episode) – the result is one of the best TV shows of the last 10 years.

Honourable mentions: Boardwalk Empire, Penny Dreadful, Hannibal, The Killing US

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Daftly drab Dexter’s demise

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WARNING: CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR DEXTER.

Finally. It has finally happened. Dexter, the other show that ended recently, went out with the stale stench of mediocrity that has plagued the show since its fifth season. In these days of superhero obsession and vigilantism on screen, it’s perhaps no surprise that Dexter‘s popularity has continued to grow (Season 8’s opening episode was the watched ever until the show’s finale), it’s just a shame that the quality hasn’t.

Upon hitting small screens  back in 2006, it came as a breath of fresh air – a unique and truly original series, full of intrigue, wit and suspense. Yet after a truly ballsy ending to Season 4 (that would’ve made a perfect ending for the show as a whole), that saw Dexter’s innocent and sweet wife Rita left murdered in bath full of blood, the show has meandered along seemingly unsure which direction to take – each new season trying something new, regardless of logic or character arcs.

After various later opportunities (when he’s almost caught by Debra in Season 5, when he is caught by Debra in Season 6 etc.), the show has finally ended after its EIGHTH season – an all-round damp squib, of which the final episode did little to redeem matters.

In the aftermath of Vogel’s murder, a game of cat and mouse ensues between Dexter and Saxon. Eventually, Dexter has Saxon under the knife, before changing his mind and allowing Debra to arrest him instead, as he sets off for a new life in Argentina with Hannah and Harrison. Just as the happy ending is so tangibly close, Saxon breaks free and shoots Debra, causing Dexter to drop his plans and return. Saxon is arrested and Debra subsequently suffers complications causing her to be left with permanent brain damage. Dexter contrives to kill Saxon in a way that makes it look (sort of) like self-defence. Dexter then takes Debra off the life support machine before faking his own death and leaving Harrison and Hannah alone in Argentina.

In spite of convincing us for the entire season that Dexter had developed emotions and actually loved his fellow serial killer Hannah (one of the few interesting story arcs and believable in terms of performance and chemistry) and that he had changed, grown and evolved as a character and a human being, the ending appeared to suggest otherwise. Having switched off the life support machine of the most important person in his life (his brain damaged sister Debra), he gives her a supposedly emotional burial at sea – the same place he dumps the bodies of the despicable people that he secretly murders. He then proceeds to (somehow) fake his own death by driving his boat head on into an oncoming tropical storm.

Thus he ends up truly alone, assumed dead by the only two people left in his life – utterly neglected son, Harrison and Hannah. And why? Perhaps as penance for the guilt he feels over the death of his beloved sister Debra? Or perhaps as some futile attempt to protect his son and girlfriend (who herself is a serial killer and wanted fugitive) from himself? And if this second option is the case, then why now? Why not when he was being investigated by various fellow law enforcement officers? Or the numerous times he compromised his sister’s integrity/ruined her life? Or when any number of people he was close to were brutally murdered as he was hunted by another serial killer? Any of these times would’ve made sense for him to disappear in order to protect others – but now, when he was free from investigation and suspicion, when he had just finished proclaiming that his infamous need to kill was gone and that all he needed was Hannah and when she was the only person in the World (apart from Season 5’s never again mentioned Lumen) who knew his secret, is a little hard to swallow.

In spite of never being a show that relied on great performances (Michael C. Hall aside), such as Breaking Bad or Homeland, the main actors (Michael C. Hall included) have been phoning it in for quite some time now. Prior to this final season, the addition of Charlotte Rampling as some kind of ‘psychopath whisperer’, while utterly preposterous, at least inspired interest. Yet, to say that her performance was soulless and empty would be an understatement. The cast themselves seemed as tired and disillusioned at their characters must be, and a number of fans certainly have been. For quite some time, the show has shown little or no credible character arc – characteristics, motivations and personalities  seem to change from scene to scene, making the plot feel convoluted and forced.

At times, it felt like the creators had run out of ideas and were just killing time – the introduction of Zach and the idea of Dexter passing the torch; Masuka’s daughter; the Joey, Jamie and Debra love triangle; Joey taking the sergeants exam – all of these elements had no significance or meaning in the final season. The Wire‘s mantra is ‘all the pieces matter’ (a formula present in the incredible Breaking Bad also),whereas for Dexter, it seemed to be that none of them did.

As a long suffering fan, for me, it would’ve been better if he had been caught and/or arrested and/or killed when turning off Debra’s life support. Or if he had simply killed Saxon in a less contrived and rational way – finally being punished for an understandable crime of passion and rage as opposed to his moral, methodical picking off of serial killers. (When was the last time he did that by the way?) Yet to leave him in some sort of self enforced exile seems rather weak and unsatisfying, particularly with how much Dexter has been to-ing and fro-ing the longer the show has worn on. It also, potentially, leaves events ripe for revisit in the future (PLEASE, NO).

Even his claim that “As much as I may have pretended otherwise, for so long all I’ve wanted was to be like other people, to feel what they felt… Now that I do, I just want it to stop.” felt false. For me, it has appeared that far from wanting to be like other people, he has felt that he needed to be like other in order to fit in and reinforce his cover life. If anything, Dexter has also seemed bored by social normalities – one of the show’s great black comic elements.

So as the sun sets on Dexter’s time in Miami, I can’t help but feel mixed emotions – relief that the show has final found its way to its protagonist’s table, yet disappointment that what started out as a brilliant TV show was allowed to limp on long passed its sell by date.

That said, everyone’s favourite serial killer, or at least the memory of what he once was, will be missed, as even in the disappointing later seasons, there was still nothing quite like Dexter.

Top Ten Film Noirs

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10. Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944)

One of the quintessential film noirs – directed by Billy Wilder, written by Raymond Chandler from a James M. Cain novella and starring Barbara Stanwyck as the memorable femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson. Told through voiceover and series of extended flashbacks/memories, this is an undoubted benchmark of the genre.

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9. Night and the City (Dassin, 1950)

Rotten and pessimistic to the core, Night and the City was Dassin’s first film following his exile from America for his alleged Communist tendencies and tells of the demise of a petty criminal (Richard Widmark) as he becomes involved in the world of a pro wrestling promoter and underworld boss. Set in London, the film has few, if any, likeable or relatable characters and is ripe with existentialism at its most despairing.

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8. Le Samouraï  (Melville, 1967)

The only purely non-American film on list, although Melville was fascinated with both the country and the noir genre. Arguably the great French director’s purest noir – indeed it’s largely a retelling of the Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake starring This Gun For Hire (Tuttle, 1942). Melville regular Alain Delon takes Ladd’s role of a solitary hitman double-crossed by his bosses. This marked the beginning of an even more gritty and bleak turn for Melville’s later films.

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7. Klute (Pakula, 1971)

The first of Pakula’s so-called ‘paranoia trilogy’ (along with The Parallax View and All the President’s Men), whilst not a typical film noir in the strictest sense, does have many of the elements. Private eye Klute (Donald Sutherland) is hired to investigate the disappearance of a business executive, which leads him to freelance call girl Bree (Oscar-winning performance from Jane Fonda). What follows is an evocative psychological thriller laced with twists and paranoia.

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6. Memento (Nolan, 2000)

The film that brought Nolan to a lot of people’s attention. This intriguing and twisting tale is told backwards whilst being intercut with a series of chronologically shown flashbacks. Guy Pearce’s Leonard Shelby suffers with a form of amnesia that renders him unable to store new memories. As he searches for the truth behind the rape and murder of his wife he tattoos his body with clues and snaps polaroids, all the while sourcing help from shady undercover cop Teddy and manipulative bartender Natalie. A truly mind-bending neo-noir.

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5. Brick (Johnson, 2005)

The setting of Brick may say high-school rom-com but the plot, dialogue and action are straight from the pages of hardboiled film noir. Boasting a breakthrough performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Brendan, Johnson’s debut film tells of Brendan’s search for the truth after he discovers the body of his ex-girlfriend. Every inch the archetypal gumshoe, Brendan encounters shady gangsters, corrupt authorities and a foxy femme fatale, as he coolly takes a beating or two along the way, in true Bogart style. Excellent, period Hammett-esque dialogue and brilliant performances.

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4. Gilda (Vidor, 1946)

Rita Hayworth is as alluring and unforgettable as any femme fatale before or since in the title role of Charles Vidor’s classic noir. Noir regular Glenn Ford plays small-time gambler Johnny Farrell whose love-hate relationship with Gilda sizzles and crackles throughout the film. Admittedly the film has an ending perhaps more at home in melodrama than noir, but nevertheless, with snappy dialogue, twist after twist and genuinely unforgettable scenes, Gilda remains a classic.

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3. The Big Sleep (Hawks, 1946)

Bogart. Bacall. Hawks. Chandler. The Big Sleep is one of the most engaging and twisting film noirs ever brought to screen. Bogart and Bacall have chemistry galore in their second outing on screen together, as the former’s smooth, quick witted Phillip Marlowe meets his match in the latter’s Vivian Rutledge. Perhaps the best film noir from the classic period.

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2. Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958)

Boasts one of the best casts in noir history featuring the likes of Janet Leigh, Charlton Heston, Marlene Dietrich and the incomparable writer and director Orson Welles. As technically brilliant as any film on this list, the opening three minute plus tracking shot is cinema at its best. Welles is on top form as the despicable corrupt cop Hank Quinlan who draws the attention of straight-laced Government official Ramon Miguel Vargas (Heston). Widely considered the final film noir of the classic period, and certainly one of the best.

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1. Chinatown (Huston, 1974)

The finest example from the genre’s second coming during the New Hollywood era of the 60s and 70s. The weather may be different – sun-soaked, sandy deserts replace the typical rain-drenched alleyways – but the events and inhabitants are no less noir. Jack Nicholson is excellent as smart-mouthed private detective Jake Gittes and director, Huston, is terrifying as the appalling and monstrous Noah Cross. Gittes is hired to investigate a government engineer by his wife, who suspects him of having an affair. When the man turns up murdered after Gittes believes he’s caught him in the act, he realises he’s been set –up and so becomes embroiled in a story of scandal, corruption and the dark secret of a powerful and dangerous man. An incredible film, permeated with evil and corruption and a flawed and tragic hero. Film noir at its best.

Honourable mentions: Laura (Preminger, 1944); The Killers (Siodmak, 1946); The Big Heat (Lang, 1953); The Long Goodbye (Altman, 1973) and Sin City (Miller & Rodriguez, 2005).

Who’s Laughing Now?

Comedy is a divisive subject. Take the recent Golden Globes for a timely example. Ricky Gervais was almost universally criticised for his third consecutive hosting performance for not being ‘funny enough’. The previous year however, he was too cutting, too offensive and too rude. On the whole, I personally enjoyed both years. Divisive.

             

That’s not to say that I’m an unconditional fan of Gervais’ work. Of his three collaborative shows with Stephen Merchant, a loose thematic trilogy on the pursuit of, achievement of, and desperation to hang on to, fame, my reaction to each has grown gradually cooler. The Office is an all-time classic, and for me, the best comedy show ever made. Extras too, is very, very good. Yet I found their latest effort Life’s Too Short to be a real let down, and indeed I gave up after episode four. The laughs from Gervais’ stand ups have also been on the wane, with his debut tour Animals still remaining the best of his four to date.

I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly difficult person to make laugh. Dogs regularly achieve it, as does the occasional cat. Yet I am finding that films rarely do. Of the roughly 600 DVDs that I own, only nine are what I would consider ‘comedies’. NINE (and yes, that was a shameful ploy just to publish the size of my DVD collection. Apologies.). Big hits such as The Hangover and Tropic Thunder did very little for me in the way of laughs, whilst the same can be said for the Coen brothers’ comedies (The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading). Knocked Up and Superbad certainly had their moments, and I have yet to see Bridesmaids, of which I have heard only good things. The Royal Tenenbaums is another that brought steady chuckles, but perhaps positive memories of these were only enhanced by the boredom felt at Anderson’s other works such as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. (Just a side note regarding my DVD collection… that 600 is films only. If we’re talking TV shows too, then you’re going to want to bump that number up at least another 50.)

            

For me then (I stress the me part because as well as divisive, comedy is arguably also the most subjective of genres), the most laughs tend to come from so-called ‘indie comedy/drama’ hybrids such as 500 Days of Summer, Dan in Real Life, Easy A, Garden State, In Bruges, Juno, The Kids Are All Right, Little Miss Sunshine, Napoleon Dynamite or Office Space. On the whole, films where the comedy tends to come as a result of the drama in the plot, instead of perhaps being the driving force as in something like Anchorman (which, incidentally, I did like). Maybe it’s just me. Perhaps I’m weird. What are the comedy films that I’m missing? Anything that should be immediately added to my 600 DVDs (got it in there again)? Because in a country where cinematic creativity is being forever threatened, I could certainly do with a few laughs.

 

2012 Preview

Yes, there’s plenty I still haven’t seen from 2011 (and even 2010) but that doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to a whole new batch of cinematic treats due for release in the following 12 months.

Aside from the obvious box-office magnets of The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, Prometheus and Skyfall, below I have compiled my top ten. In addition to wishing that the likes of Michael Mann, David Lynch, Lukas Moodysson and Lucrecia Martel would pull their fingers out in terms of new film projects, I’m also hoping that Giorgos Lanthimos’ Alps will get some sort of UK release date; his previous effort Dogtooth was a marvellously brutal, Haneke-esque melodrama and one of the most intriguing films of the decade.

10. Untitled Bin Laden film (dir. Kathryn Bigelow) – starring Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton and Edgár Ramírez.

After the deserved success of her last film The Hurt Locker and subsequent best director Oscar, Bigelow’s stock has rocketed. Her new film is in a similar field and has been described as an international thriller surrounding the hunt for, and capture of, Osama Bin Laden. Earmarked for a December release there are few details around for this Mark Boal written project, although the likes of Guy Pearce and Idris Elba have been linked to additional roles.

9. Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino) – starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Leonardo Di Caprio and Kerry Washington.

Back on form with the outrageous Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino fans (of which I am one) have been waiting with baited breath for this Western/Slave/Revenge/Thriller hybrid follow up. With an outstanding cast headlined by Leonardo Di Caprio, Jamie Foxx and the extremely busy Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this tale of a slave-turned-bounty-hunter who sets out to save his wife from a sadistic plantation owner looks set to be spectacularly bonkers, if nothing else.

8. Wettest County (dir. John Hillcoat) – starring Shia LeBeouf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce and Jason Clarke.

Adapted from Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County in the World, this Depression-era crime drama boasts one of 2012’s most impressive casts. And with John Hillcoat, of The Road and more impressively, the gritty, scorching The Proposition fame, at the helm, it’s safe to say it could also be one of the most impressive films of the year. The Nick Cave scribed project stars Tom Hardy, Shia LeBeouf, Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke as members of a bootlegging gang whose operation is threatened by the Guy Pearce-led authorities that what to shut them down.

7. Looper (dir. Rian Johnson) – starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Bruce Willis.

After his outstanding debut film Brick was released in 2005, Rian Johnson looked set for an extremely bright future. Follow up The Brothers Bloom was somewhat uninspiring however, and he failed to kick on. Now back with his third film Looper, Johnson reunites with Brick leading man Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as well as adding the Paul Dano, Bruce Willis and the superb Emily Blunt, to an impressive line up. The future-set film centres on a contract killer who recognises one of his targets as his future self; a premise that admittedly, does not sound the most appealing, but I remember thinking the same thing when reading about The Adjustment Bureau and Source Code – both of which I enjoyed immensely.

6. The Grandmasters (dir. Wong Kar Wai) – starring Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang

This story of Ip Man, the great martial artist who trained Bruce Lee, promises to be excellent if the previous oeuvre of the visually sumptuous Wong Kar Wai is anything to go by. It stars regular collaborator Tony Leung as Ip Man and the world renowned Ziyi Zhang, back for her second stint with Wai following 2046. The Grandmasters will be the director’s first film since his critic dividing English language debut My Blueberry Nights (2007), and marks a return to his native tongue.

5. Rust and Bone (dir. Jacques Audiard) – starring Marion Cotillard.

The master of French crime-noir is back with this adaptation of Craig Davidson’s short stories collection of the same name. Little is known about what direction Audiard’s version will take, but given that the source novels frequent the seedy underground world of illegal fighting, gambling and sex addicts, and that the director has a penchant violence, gangsters and crime, then it is safe to say we have a rough idea. The addition of Cotillard as protagonist elect is interesting however, as Audiard’s previous work has dealt almost exclusively with male leads.

4. The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) – starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix.

After the release of instant classic There Will Be Blood in 2007, Anderson has taken his time in pulling together his follow up which is not about scientology. Instead, The Master, stars Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, a ‘charasmatic intellectual’ whose ‘faith-based organisation’ begins to gain popularity in 1950s America. OK, so maybe it is about scientology. Either way, acting support comes from the wonderful Amy Adams, and the rejuvenated Joaquin Phoenix, who plays a drifter taken under Dodd’s wing. Staple Anderson themes of male bonding, father-son relationships and questions of faith seem implied, and this looks set to be a very good, and possibly controversial, one.

3. Amour (dir. Michael Haneke) – starring Isabelle Huppert, William Shimell, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

After forays into English (Funny Games U.S.) and his native German (The White Ribbon), Haneke’s twelfth feature Amour reverts to the French of which we have grown accustomed in the latter half of his career. It stars regular collaborator Isabelle Huppert who plays Eva, as well as the now trademark, recurring character names of Anne and Georges, played by Riva and Trintignant respectively. The premise revolves around a retired couple who struggle to cope in the aftermath of the wife suffering a debilitating stroke and is set for a May time release. This sounds like vintage Haneke, therefore expect no punches to be pulled in what is sure to be a difficult and demanding film.

2. Untitled (dir. Terrence Malick) – starring Javier Bardem, Ben Affleck, Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko, Jessica Chastain and Martin Sheen.

Having made just five films in a 38 year career to date, the most recent of which being the mesmeric The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick appears to be making up for lost time. He now looks set to almost double his life’s work in the next two years, with a staggering four projects on the go. The Brad Pitt and Emma Thompson narrated ‘examination of the birth and death of the universe’ is due out some time this year, whilst star-studded duo Knight of Cups and Lawless featuring the likes of Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling, are both scheduled for a 2013 release. An equally impressive list of names has been working on an as yet untitled film that is due to hit cinemas this year however. The project is described as a ‘romantic drama’ and purportedly centres on a man (Affleck) reconnecting with an old flame as his marriage falls apart.

1. Cogan’s Trade (dir. Andrew Dominik) – starring Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Sam Shepard, Garrett Dillahunt and Ray Liotta.

It’ll be almost five years since the release of Dominik’s previous film when Cogan’s Trade finally hits screens later on this year. That last film just so happens to be The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – one of the most exquisite films of the last twenty years, and my personal all time favourite. My excitement and insatiable anticipation for Dominik’s next project has been growing since 2007, and my mind was blown when preliminary cast lists included seemingly the entire Assassination crew of Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard and Garrett Dillahunt. Affleck and Rockwell have since dropped out however, only to be replaced by the likes of James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins and Vincent Curatola. The film has been adapted from the George V. Higgins novel by Dominik himself, and centres around a professional enforcer (Pitt) who investigates a heist that took place at a mob protected poker game. Excited is not the word.

A few others worth keeping an eye on are: the multi-directed 7 días en La Habana (featuring input from the likes of Julio Medem, Gaspar Noé and Benicio del Toro), Carlos Assayas Apres mai, the multi-narrative Cloud Atlas directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski brothers, and Pawel Pawlikowski’s long awaited My Summer of Love follow up, The Woman in the Fifth.

(Slightly late) 2011 Review (including the best things I’ve seen this year, both new and old)

Movies

I unfortunately had to rely more heavily than ever on art centres (Chapter in Cardiff, Taliesin in Swansea and the DCA in Dundee) for my movie going fix, due mainly to the multiplexes’ lack of originality in their line-ups. 2011 was notable for being the year in which the most movie sequels were released (congratulations), with a staggering 28 – working out at just over one a fortnight. It is hardly surprising then that eight of the top grossing films of the year were sequels, with the kid-friendly duo of Rio and The Smurfs making up the numbers.

Consequently, my ‘need to see’ list is now far, far outweighing my ‘seen’ list. The Ides of March, Drive, The Skin I Live In, J. Edgar, Melancholia, Hugo, The Artist, Shame, Carnage, In the Land of Blood & Honey, The Kid With a Bike, The Descendents, The Killing Fields, Sleeping Beauty, Margaret, Bridesmaids, The Tree of Life, Another Earth, The Whistleblower, Contagion, Take Shelter and Margaret are all on my list, although I am redeemed as some of these are still yet to be released.

Now, to what I have seen. I was blown away by two different but equally incredibly powerful British films by female directors, Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and Andrea Arnold’s bold Wuthering Heights retelling. Two films that could be the last of a dying breed if David Cameron gets his way… but that showcase the true talent in acting, writing, directing and cinematography that Britain has to offer. To continue the patriotic theme, Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy was also brilliant, an excellent film with perhaps the best British ensemble cast, in one of my favourite genres.

2011 will also be a notable year for me, as it is when I became a Harry Potter convert (of sorts)! For spectacle, in the final two films in particular, there is almost nothing to touch it.

On the subject of entertainment:

Source Code continued Duncan Jones’ impressive CV thus far, a brilliant, fresh action thriller.

The Lincoln Lawyer was slick, stylish and brimming with tension; even making me hate Matthew McConaughey slightly less.

The Kids are All Right cemented Lisa Cholodenko’s place as one of my favourite directors.

The Adjustment Bureau was great fun, if Hitchcock had directed Blade Runner this would be it.

Whilst I also loved a number of thrillers including, The Secret in their Eyes which is wonderfully intricate, sinister and above all, engrossing; Winter’s Bone, icy, visceral and unforgiving mountain noir; whilst Revanche was restrained and subtle yet menacingly tense.

As well as Somewhere (Sofia Coppola), Nowhere Boy (Sam Taylor-Wood), Easy A (Will Gluck), Paris (Cédric Klapisch) and Let’s Talk About the Rain (Agnes Jaoui).

I’ve also been watching a number of Luis Buñuel’s more religion-centric films, and loved the subversive, playful and joyfully mocking nature of Viridiana, Simon of the Desert and The Milky Way in particular.

 

TV

Television almost overtook my movie viewing in this past year, which the quality continuing to increase.

A special mention needs to go to Game of Thrones, the first season of which proved to be brutal, addictive and immense. The latest season of Mad Men continued to prove its justified reputation as the best thing on TV at the moment. Whilst, after a shaky first few episodes, the much hyped Boardwalk Empire got gradually better, before confidently hitting it’s stride in season two and finishing with an incredibly bold and brave final episode; setting events up beautifully for the upcoming third season. regrettably, the same cannot be said for a personal favourite of mine, Dexter, season six of which limped along worryingly, before righting itself somewhat in the final few episodes – although I’m hopeful that the already confirmed season seven may be its last. One show that got nowhere near the seventh season mark was The Chicago Code which was unfortunately cancelled after the first season, despite being a good, solid cop drama with ample potential for future season arcs. The Borgias managed to almost fill the gap left by The Tudors, whilst the latest instalment of This Is England (this time set in 1988) was another gritty, powerhouse of cinematic excellence.

The French police series Spiral produced another brilliant season, whilst Braquo also finally made it to UK screens, and in the process threatened to make the corruption and lawbreaking of The Shield’s Vic Mackey and co. look like an episode of The Bill.

Season one of The Killing (USA) got better as the weeks went on and becomes compelling in its own right. Only then did I watch season two of The Killing (Denmark) and immediately forget that there ever was an American version.

As for the future, I am extremely looking forward to Luck, plus new series of Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Spiral, Boardwalk Empire and The Borgias.

The final mention however, must go to Mark Cousins’ wonderful, sprawling epic The Story of Film: An Odysseythe defining encyclopaedia of the history of cinema.