Friday, 31 December 2010

The Year We Made Contact

To almost steal the title from the film version of Arthur C. Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two. For the last week or so the media has been awash with programmes, lists and articles about the year we came to call 2010 (even if we've yet to agree on what to call the decade). Programmes, lists and articles put together before Christmas, apparently certain that nothing happens between Christmas and New Year, and as such they are, of course, programmes, lists and articles which are incomplete.

2010 was a great year for me. Professionally, I really enjoyed working on Baited Hooks, The Tables Turned, To Moscow...To Moscow..., the Bike Shed Festival and The Death Of Tintagel. I also ran the London Marathon and then promptly gave up running. I discovered Microfiction Monday which provided me with a constant rolling deadline and plenty of writing exercises. And more importantly I met Sarah.

I originally wrote a Year In Review type post at the end of 2009, but after writing a little about each of the handful of films I had seen I decided that it was a waste of time. It wasn't in anyway complete. I am forever playing catch up and don't have time or funds to read/watch/listen to all the latest books/films/TV/albums etc. It may take me years to get around to the latest thing.

Since no one can claim to have seen every film released, or read every book published in a particular year, all those best film/books/music/TV of 2010 lists are at best inherently subjective and at worst arrogantly incomplete by their very nature. Recentish posts (like this one) made me think that rather than try to be comprehensive I should embrace the subjective and parochial nature of it and write a list of my favourite things from 2010:

Four Lions
Chris Morris' suicide bomber buddy movie is easily the funniest film I have seen in years. Riz Ahmed's performance grounds the action of his misguided contemporaries, with a special mention for Adeel Akhtar whose character is so endearing that it's easy to forget his intentions. This film will make a lot of people very uncomfortable and justifiably so, not because of any jumped up indignation over claims of Islamophobia, but actually because it asks more of its audience, challenges expectations and representations of Muslims in Britain. Here's the Trailer, and here's an excellent video of Chris Morris dealing with someone choosing to be offended on behalf of someone else based on some broad assumptions.

Scott Pilgrim Versus The World
This adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic is nothing short of fantastic. Edgar Wright's style feeds perfectly into the geek fest that references computer games a plenty, Seinfeld-like sitcoms and its comic book roots. Michael Cera is wonderful as our eponymous hero and has Scott's sensibilities down while Kieran Culkin is brilliant as his bitter flatmate, the seven evil exes are all great and the ending wrong foots the viewer umpteen times, which is refreshing. Here's a trailer.

The A-Team
This film is so much better than the trailer made it look, which surely means the trailer has failed in its only task. Sharlto Copley's Murdock reaches reassuring levels of howling madness and is a joy to watch. Bradley Cooper's Face is also well drawn (I'm not saying Bradley Cooper's face is well drawn), but Face was a character that stood out on television, but could very easily seem like just another Hollywood leading man on the cinema screen. The twist on "the crime they didn't commit" also was a welcome addition. I'm looking forward to seeing it again because sadly I missed the cameos of Dwight Schultz and Dirk Benedict.

Exit Through The Gift Shop
Banksy's film about Thierry Guetta not making a film about Banksy. Guetta's meteoric rise to fame as Mr Brainwash with work which derivative at best, proves that the art scene is more about hype than quality and that the emperor's new clothes do not an artist make. He is probably the nicest man ever caught on film, until his debut. Very funny and filled with works of counter-culture genius. There are claims that this is actually an elaborate documentary and while I don't think it is, the possibility only adds to the charm. Here's the trailer.

Another Year
Mike Leigh's Year-In-The-Life of a happy couple and their family and friends is great. The cast are fantastic, the characters well observed and telling the story in seasonal instalments works beautifully. Here's the trailer.

Never Let Me Go
Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Isobel Meikle-Small are fantastic in this brilliant thought-provoking film that explores a dystopian alternative history. Here's the trailer.

Doctor Who: The End Of Time, Part Two; A Christmas Carol
It seems so long ago, but the first part of David Tennant's swansong left us with a great cliffhanger: the Master was everyone, everywhere and out to get the Doctor. Tennant, John Simms and Bernard Cribbins are fantastic in this epic finale to end all finales. Who is Claire Bloom's character? Is she the Doctor's mother? The Doctor's daughter? Is it Susan, Romana or someone else entirely? Does it matter?
"He will knock four times" conjured up images of death and destruction, so I was floored by the moment when the fourtime knocker was revealed. For me the Tenth Doctor's extended goodbye sequence was entirely justified and well earned.
Fifty one weeks later and A Christmas Carol is the first classic of the Eleventh Doctor's tenure. Matt Smith, Katherine Jenkins and Laurence Belcher are all excellent, Steven Moffat's script is wonderful, intricate without being overcomplicated and it manages to be Christmassy without being schmaltzy.

Everything you know is wrong. This year QI's alphabetical quest for knowledge takes in Germany, Gallimaufrey and Gravity and Hanatomy, Hypnotism and Hocus Pocus. Although it must be said that the roomier QI XL is often a more rewarding watch.

Gavin & Stacey: Episode 20
The twentieth (and it seems final) episode of the Welsh-Essex exchange programme was another end of an era. The show that skipped over the wedding of its eponymous couple ended with another, so when every gory detail of his wedding to Nessa was shown in full, alarm bells really should have rung for Dave Coaches. The last scene was a great note to end on.

Dollhouse: Getting Closer; The Hollow Men; Epitaph Two: Return
The Echo versus Caroline versus The Rossum Corporation showdown is full of surprises, wrong footings and turnabouts as Joss Whedon's Dollhouse comes to a premature end. The welcome return of the gang from Epitaph One is sadly overshadowed in Epitaph Two: Return as they have to vie for attention amidst the Dollhouse regulars ten years on. The regular characters all get a satisfying grace note to end with. Gone before its time.

Time Team
I love Time Team and after seventeen years it shows no signs of slowing. This year's highlights include a search for Saxon royalty in Oxfordshire and the fascinating story of Norman Cross, Britain's first ever Prisoner Of War camp. Doesn't it make you proud?

Eddie Iz Running
Both inspiring and terrifying to me whilst I was preparing to run my own marathon, Eddie Izzard ran 43 marathons in 51 days.

Lizzie And Sarah
Sadly this did not go to series, but the relentlessly dark pilot gives us a tantalising glimpse at what a home counties Thelma And Louise on a killing spree might be like. Which is of course precisely what television was invented for.

Terry Pratchett's Going Postal
I broke my own rule with this one and watched it without having read the book first. I loved it. Richard Coyle's Moist Von Lipwig has a real zeal to him and Andrew Sachs and Ian Bonar make a great double act. The Golems and the Clacks are so well realised that Ankh Morpork has never seemed so geniune. It seems astonishing now that the line "When banks fail, it's not bankers who starve" was written before the credit crunched.

Roger And Val Have Just Got In
I underestimated this series when I watched the first episode and it took me a couple of weeks to realise how touching and bittersweet it was. Both Dawn French and Alfred Molina are great.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Nightmare Man; The Vault Of Secrets; Death Of The Doctor; The Empty Planet; Lost In Time
The fourth season shakes things up and the first story concerns Luke's departure, Tommy Knight, Daniel Anthony and Anjli Mohindra perform the awkwardness of their character's anxieties brilliantly, Julian Bleach is terrifying as The Nightmare Man, the nightmares of Luke, Rani and Clyde are a great insight (and Elisabeth Sladen is particularly superb in Clyde's). Mark Goldthorp and the regulars manage to make Androvax a sympathetic characters and Mina Anwar is great as a Gita, briefly fully aware of alien life in The Vault Of Secrets. Sladen, Katy Manning and Matt Smith are all great in Death Of The Doctor. It's a love letter to Doctor Who companions and nostalgia. Using memory itself as a power source is a lovely excuse for some stock footage montages and the snippets of information about other companions are a very nice touch. Daniel Anthony and Anjli Mohindra do an excellent job of carrying the Sarah-lite The Empty Planet. Dealing with Nazi beliefs, children trapped in housefires and the nine day queen would be a tall order for any story but Lost In Time handles all three well and is as intelligent as any grown up SF.

The First Men In The Moon
Mark Gatiss' adaptation of the HG Wells novel is faultless. The tale is recounted to a little boy on the eve of the Apollo 11 moon landing and features great performances from Gatiss and Rory Kinnear, beautiful period detail of both 1909 and 1969 and some lovely CGI of the Selenites.

Psychoville: Halloween
It's a return to Ravenhill Mental Hospital for a portmanteau horror offering of four stories for Halloween and a new spin on the cliffhanger ending to the first series, but it is the last scene that proves to be the funniest.

Dirk Gently
Sherlock has nothing on this. Stephen Mangan is wonderful as Douglas Adams' holistic detective. References to absent sections of the book are a little frustrating though.

Ashes To Ashes
The third and final series sticks with the theme of police corruption, but turns the focus inwards while Alex becomes preoccupied with the aftermath of Life On Mars. In a departure from previous years, Chris, Ray and Shaz get their own feature episodes and Daniel Mays is a great addition to the cast. The last episode was always going to have lot to live up to and manages to deliver surprises and a great ending.

Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service
BBC6Music was threatened with closure days after the show started (as if it was timed specifically to coincide with Adam and Joe's sabbatical), but almost singlehandedly Cocker turned things around playing a wonderful mix of eclectic music and interviews, increasing the Sunday afternoon audience and winning the Sony DAB Rising Star Award 2010.

Doctor Who: The Cannibalists
In a closed system, entropy increases. If you set a bunch of robots the task of making a planet fit for human life and the humans fail to turn up, what sort of society would the robots create for themselves? Phill Jupitus is wonderful as Servo, the robot with poetic aspirations.

Chain Reaction: Stephen Merchant Interviews Jarvis Cocker
The concept of this talk show is that the interviewer chooses an interviewee who then goes on to be the next episode's interviewer, all of which was lost on me since this is the only episode I've heard and as it is the last in its series the interviewee doesn't get to come back. Merchant provides a genial atmosphere in which predictable questions about falling out of a window to impress a girl and the Brits Jackogate incident illicit very funny descriptions from Cocker that manage to reveal new information.

The League Of Gentlemen's Ghost Chase
The Gents spend a night at the apparently very haunted The Ancient Ram Inn, sceptically they attempt to use a Ouija board to contact the dead and conjure up possibly the scariest answer to the question "What's it like being dead?"

Jarvis Cocker: Time To Think (National Trust: The Album)
Birdsong, footsteps and the clink of billiard balls hitting one another, these are the sounds of Jarvis Cocker's trip around a smattering of National Trust properties. Cocker said he intended this to be a "holiday for the ears". Individual tracks flow into one another in a beautiful and simple way, so much so that it's a surprise when the composed tune of Lanhydrock's Old Music Box kicks in. The clocks of Blickling Hall have a mesmeric feel, until the chime chimes.
Stand out tracks: 'Blickling Hall - Clocks ticking and chiming'

The Hoosiers: The Illusion Of Safety
Less odd pop and more unashamedly eighties-style pop pop.
Stand out tracks 'Choices'; 'Bumpy Ride'; 'Who Said Anything (About Falling in Love)?', 'Unlikely Hero'; 'Made To Measure'

Gorillaz: Plastic Beach
The animated band return and it looks like they've well and truly arrived, because everyone seems to be queueing up to work with them: Snoop Dogg, Bashy and Kano, Bobby Womack, De La Soul and Gruff Rhys, Yukimi Nagano (Little Dragon), Mark E. Smith, Lou Reed and Mos Def are all willing to play second fiddle to the cartoon combo this time around. There was a danger that having this many cooks would leave this album without a voice of its own, but stepping off the red carpet reveals some interesting experiments. 'White Flag' feels like a fusion of hip hop and pseudo-classical music, 'Broken' could easily have been a Blur track circa 13, but it's 'Superfast Jellyfish' which sounds like the quintessential Gorillaz track on this album.
Stand out tracks: 'Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach', 'White Flag', 'Superfast Jellyfish', 'Plastic Beach', 'Pirate Jet'

The People's Manifesto by Mark Thomas (and the people)
Compiled by Mark Thomas from suggestions made by the audiences as he toured around the country. Due to the timing of the tour the MP's expenses scandal was very high on the agenda and the people had very colourful suggestions of how to keep our political class honest such as forcing them to wear the name and logos of the companies which sponsor them like racing drivers and that MP's wages should function like student loans and be paid back when they move onto pastures even more lucrative and their controversial second homes are publicly owned. My personal favourite policies include: "models should be chosen from the electoral roll", "people who allow their dog to shit on the pavement without cleaning it up should be forced to wear it as a moustache" and "those in favour of ID cards should be banned from having curtains".

Where's Wally? The Spectacular Poster Book by Martin Handford
Maybe this fits more comfortably under the heading of comics and maybe the inclusion of posters reduces the literary worth, but who cares. Wally is always worth looking for.

Jump Leads: The Cult Of Meaney
The dimension jumping adventures of an unfortunate duo: an eternal optimist and a misanthropic pessimist. This time around think The Odd Couple meets Sliders meets watermelon-clad tribespeople.

Doctor Who: The Crimson Hand; Planet Bollywood!; The Golden Ones; The Professor, The Queen And The Bookshop
The Tenth Doctor's final comic strip was less of a farewell for him than it was for his companion Majenta Pryce. This 'season finale' style strip is huge in scope as it resolves the mystery surrounding Pryce, but only after deepening it, as The Crimson Hand closes around her and ends with a beautiful final panel.
The Eleventh Doctor arrives in the comic and lands on Planet Bollywood! Roger Langridge's artwork is vibrant, the style is playful and Jonathan Morris' script is crying out to be set to music. The excellent The Golden Ones gave us a sinister alien invasion and a Japanese monster movie rolled into one, with a surprisingly environmentally unfriendly resolution and The Professor, The Queen And The Bookshop is a beautiful Narnian sidestep.

Back To The Future: It's About Time
Hill Valley's finest are back in the first episode of this game which picks up after the events of the third film. You play as Marty McFly as he attempts to rescue Doc Brown in a time travelling adventure that visits parts of the timeline so far unseen in the film trilogy, but with reassuring similarities. Christopher Lloyd returns to voice Doc while AJ LoCascio's voice is indistinguishable from Michael J. Fox as Marty.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge - Special Edition
In typical George Lucas fashion his earlier work is once again being revisited and having flashy newness applied to it. To be completely honest I haven't played the Special Edition of this game, but since the excellent original is also included here I have no problem recommending it. Funny and puzzling pirating, now with optional prettier graphics and soundtrack.

Robert Llewellyn's online taxi service featured great in-car interviews with people as varied as Patrick Stewart, Ben Goldacre, Rebecca Watson of Skepchick, Graham Fellows, Rob Grant, Hattie Hayridge, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Mitch Benn and Phill Jupitus among others.

Mid Morning Matters With Alan Partridge: Episode 1, Episode 2 , Episode 3 , Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6
Norwich's favourite son is back. I was dubious about it being for the benefit of Fosters, but my fears were allayed when it appeared in the absence of aggressive Spr√ľnt-style marketing and turned out to be very good. Tim Key is great as Alan's sidekick.

Dr Kickles' Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory Commentary
Sadly no link since these videos seem to have fallen foul of copyright worries at YouTube, but what looked like a series dedicated to childhood nostalgia actually yielded very interesting observations about people's assumptions concerning the Oompa Loompas employment status and comparing the film's structure to that of a horror film.

The Weight by Jack Vettriano
I don't know much about art, but I know what I like. And I like narrative. When I heard the name of this painting said aloud I assumed it was The Wait and it's obvious to see why, but when I realised how it was spelt the emphasis shifted from a man wishing the time away or waiting for the phone to ring, and into a man crushed by the weight of responsibility. Who doesn't feel overwhelmed from time to time?

This list is a work-in-progress. Recommendations are welcome.

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