Five Favorites of 2009: Mark Billingham

FIVE FAVOURITES OF 2009: MARK BILLINGHAM

I’m not sure anyone could claim that 2009 has been a vintage year for movies, but maybe there wasn’t enough money to make very much after AVATAR. I haven’t seen this epic yet, purely on the grounds that it’s seven and a half hours long or thereabouts. Are movies getting longer or is it just that my backside has a lot less ‘give’ in it than was once the case? Two hours, tops, that should be enough. Can’t tell your story in 120 minutes? There’s something wrong with your story. Right, that’s enough grumpy-old-man ranting. Here are five things I enjoyed watching, in no particular order…

THE DAMNED UNITED
A somewhat watered down adaptation of David Peace’s novel, but a wonderful performance by Michael Sheen which would probably get an Oscar nod if those doing the voting had a clue who Brian Clough was. There hasn’t yet been a film about football where the actors make convincing players and this is no exception, but it doesn’t matter too much as this is about so much more than the game itself. A dark, twisted love story and a stunning portrayal of obsession.

THE HANGOVER
Having seen the trailer, this looked like just another laddish gross-out, but Todd Phillips’ has taken a well-worn formula and fashioned a movie that is not just hugely funny, but at times extremely moving. There’s some predictable stereotyping, but it’s structurally way more ambitious than the average screwball comedy. It made me laugh a lot, but I watched it on a wet Wednesday afternoon in Newcastle, so my standards had possibly dropped a little.

HARRY BROWN
Not too many laughs in this one and it could have done with something to lighten things just a little. A rubber chicken maybe, or a decent fart gag. It’s worth sitting through this unremittingly bleak, low-budget thriller though, just because it features what will probably be Michael Caine’s last great performance. Caine just has an effortless gravitas now and he conveys the anguish and fury of a man with nothing left to lose superbly. Talking of what could be last, great performances…

GRAN TORINO…Clint Eastwood turns in what might well be his, in a film that has much in common with Harry Brown. Like Caine, Eastwood plays a grizzled ex-army man and, like the British thriller, it is the central performance that transforms a movie which might have been rather ordinary into something elegiac.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
This Swedish production is probably my film of the year. A smart, shocking and beautiful horror movie, based on John Ajvide Lindquist’s novel about the friendship between two very different kinds of outsider. Tomas Alfredson conveys more terror in a single static shot of a snowy council estate than most directors could dream of and the performances of the two children are quite astounding. I’m really hoping this gets the recognition it deserves come Oscar time and already dreading the Hollywood remake.

Having said it was not a vintage year, I’ve still struggled to whittle the list down to five and must mention two that are bubbling under: Ken Loach’s wonderful LOOKING FOR ERIC and the last film I saw this year, SHERLOCK HOLMES. The former is a gritty and moving study of a postman regaining his marbles through an often hilarious, imaginary friendship with the legendary footballer, while the latter is a hugely enjoyable romp. It pains me to say that, as Guy Ritchie is such a knob, but I’m looking forward to the next in what will clearly be a new franchise. I’ll take the Great Detective over SAW XII any day of the week…

Mark Billingham

Haing not gotten a bio from Mark, I figured I should say a few words about him. He is a fairly funny bloke (Mark is British) and writes damn good police thriller series featuring detective Tom Thorne. In addition to writing novels, he has written for television and done stand-up comedy. More info can be found at http://www.markbillingham.com/