The Legend of Zorro (US, 2005)

The Zorro films explicitly don’t take themselves seriously so this passes a couple of hours pleasantly enough. Rufus Sewell didn’t look himself. (OAR) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0386140/

Steamboy (Japan, 2004)

The opening 45 mins of this are absolutely stunning. Brilliant drawing and northern accents. I’d usually prefer to watch anime with the original actors but surely here the authentic (er Canadian Anna Paquin’s accent is wobbly & Patric Stewart is from Mirfield) accents add to the movie. The action may become repetitive but the visuals remain great. Fabulous film. (DVD) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0348121/

Singin’ in the Rain (US 1952)

Possibly the greatest of all Hollywood musicals, this film never fails to stun. The dancing is astonishing and the songs great. It’s also funny. Brilliantly directed in long takes so the dancing can be appreciated making music videos look corrupt with their rapid editing. (DVD, 5) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045152/

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe (US, 2005)

How can such a big budget movie have such ropey special effects (they’re not all bad but some of them are back-projection city)? Anyway, it gets the effects it deserves. (OAR) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363771/

Our Hospitality (US, 1923)

A Buster Keaton classic including the maddest train journey (the dog walks there quicker) in cinema and typical deadpan brilliance. (DVD, 2) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0014341/

The Cat Returns (Japan, 2002)

Another marvel from Studio Ghibli. The postmodern mix of styles and times and cultures make these a fascinating (and enchanting) watch. It’s not simply the intellectual satisfaction of enjoying another culture these are superbly done films. (DVD) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0347618/

Domino (US, 2005)

Peculiar (sort of) biopic. Keira Knightley’s been criticised as inappropriate in the role but she seems to be playing a posh English girl as bounty hunter so perfect casting there then. There’s not a lot so say (except Mickey Rourke’s looking better than he has for a long time); Tony Scott’s distinctive look holds the attention for half an hour. (OAR) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0421054/

A Bittersweet Life (Korea, 2005)

Beautifully shot and performed by the lead (Yu-mi Jeong) with some stunning scenes (the return from the grave – but it is a gangster and not a horror movie). South Korea continues to produce the most interesting movies; does it constitute a ‘new wave’ yet? The western influences are clear but are made interesting by an indigenous slant. If you’re into bloody gangster films then don’t miss it (DVD) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0456912

Slow Motion (France-Switzerland, 1980)

Twenty years after Breathless this movie was heralded as Godard’s return to form. 26 years after that this still looks good but I remember been baffled and enchanted in equal measure. It’s probably me that’s changed so I don’t find this movie difficult now; still has some fabulous composition’s and its wit is mordant. If you love arthouse movies then watch this. (DVD, 3). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079854/

Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno, Mexico-Spain-US, 2006)

261029-pans_labyrinth_image_2A brilliant fantasy combining the brutal realism of the Spanish Civil War with a young girl’s escapist (after a fashion) fantasies. There’s a brilliant line describing fascism (accepting orders unthinkingly) and Sergio Lopez plays evil brilliantly. Visually stunning (all on E15m apparently) and emotionally gripping. One of the movies of the year. (Pictureville) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457430/

Update:

I’ve just seen the film for the fourth time and it gets better with viewing (and age). The protagonist, Ofelia, is ‘coming of age’ during the dying embers of the Civil War which, we know, Franco has not only won but will rule for another 30 years. Her escape into her fantasy world is entirely rational. I thought, when I first saw it, that the film might be dallying in the ‘fantastic’, where the fantasy may or may not be true; however, subsequently I’m convinced it’s not. In addition it becomes clearer that the story is as much about Cpt Vidal as Ofelia. The psychopathology of fascism is engraved in his pained expression and inability to relate to others, other than through violence. It is painful that such pathologies are starting to thrive in Europe, in Greece in particular, in response to economic austerity. Of course the response of the oppressed would better being of the ‘left’ than the ‘right’ but the Establishment prefers to deal with the latter, knowing it so well.

Ofelia’s is about becoming an adult, she has to complete the faun’s (or Pan’s) tasks before the full moon (of her first period). She is an active protagonist, unusual for a female, particularly a pre-pubscent one (unless we are in Miyazaki Hayao’s universe). Mercedes, who becomes a surrogate mother to her because her own is incapacitated by pregnancy, is also a dynamic character; particularly in the scene when she confronts Vidal. However I do wonder about the film’s sexual politics when we find Ofelia in the fairy tale world told to sit beside her father, who’s positioned highest in the mise en scene. Fairy tales are, of course, patriarchal; maybe that’s del Toro’s point.

Add a beautiful mise en scene, thrilling battle sequences, a villain to viscerally hate and an ending that… well just in case you haven’t seen it… you have a magnificent film.

2018 update: I’ve published a guide to the film, available here.