Five Favorites of 2009: Martin Waites.

Firstly, I’m glad Jeremy said they didn’t have to be all new releases. I doubt I’ve seen five new releases this year, or certainly not five I want to see again or would even consider being cinematic highlights. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, since I moved out of London and into the sticks it’s harder to get to see the films I like. I usually have to make do with Cineplex blockbuster stuff and I’d rather stare at a blank wall than sit through a Michael Bay film. And even worse, there are no central characters who I can believe in and identify with in those films.

And also, and this makes me sound like a terrible snob, the kind of people who go to the cinema round here don’t know how to watch a film. They phone and text their friends, shout round the cinema, compare ringtones, keep running back and forward to the concession stand to get hopped up on e numbers and generally make asses of themselves. I actually came to blows with someone during ‘Quantum of Solace’ (definitely not in the list). But don’t worry. I won.

Having said all that, there is one new film I saw at the cinema this year that I thought was brilliant. It’s made my five. For the rest of the time I’ve been watching DVDs, building up my library. And there are some gems now.

Anyway, the films.


In reverse order:

5.
City Of The Dead

A classic from 1959 that I’d somehow managed to miss. Set supposedly in New England but actually filmed on a sound stage at
Shepperton, it’s got Christopher Lee shouting ‘Burn, witch, burn!’ in an American accent, some genuinely scary moments, even now, and a climax featuring exploding monks.

And some of the most gorgeous black and white cinematography in a horror film. Or any film.

It gives it a truly hypnotic, expressionist feel. And the fact that a major plot twist comes courtesy of ‘Psycho’ is neither here nor there.

4. The Orphanage

I finally got round to seeing it, after everyone else. And what a beautiful, unsettling and moving film it is. There were a couple of clunky
bits which is to be expected from a first time director, but the whole thing makes such perfect sense. And such a downbeat and genuinely heartbreaking ending.

3.
Hell Is A City

So America is the only country that can do classic noir? I don’t think so. Another classic from 1959, this one has Stanley Baker as Inspector Martineau, a conflicted but determined cop chasing a psychopathic robber and murderer played by John Crawford through a post war Manchester. Ignore the terrible RADA-Manchester accents (not in the case of John Crawford, he makes no attempt to hide his American one) and just get taken in by what is still a fast moving, psychologically pitch perfect, harrowing thriller. And the climax over the rooftops still packs a punch.

2.
In A Lonely Place

I’m embarrassed to admit I had never seen this before. However I’ve made up for that now and intend to watch it plenty of times more. A career best performance for Humphrey Bogart
whose
Dix Steele is a pitch perfect depiction of bitterness, bruised romanticism and the failure that lies at the heart of success. Gloria Grahame is her usual wonderful self, self-destructing on screen and on the rebound from director/husband Nicholas Ray via an affair with his thirteen year old
son. The emotion just about reaches through the screen and grabs you, epitomised by these lines of Grahame’s:

‘I was born when you kissed me
I died when you left me
I lived a few weeks while you loved me.’

Is there anybody, honestly, who’s never felt like that? And you know it won’t last.

And finally . . .

1.
Up

Yes, Up . The latest from Pixar was my top film of the year. The story of Carl and Russell and floating house. And airships. And talking dogs. What’s not to love? But more than that this, despite being a big Cineplex blockbuster (or intended as one) was just such a perfect piece of storytelling. Pixar make films that put a lot of allegedly adult movies to shame and I’m not ashamed to admit I love them. Storytelling, characterisation, narrative . . . all beautifully done. And in the character of Russell, the lonely, fatherless, fat, little misfit of a seven year old, here – finally – was a character I could believe in and identify with.

Martyn Waites is the author of the award nominated Joe Donovan series and the earlier Stephen Larkin series. In addition to writing novels he has held writing residencies in prisons, led creative writing and drama workshops for socially excluded teenagers and recovering addicts, been the RLF Literary Fellow at Essex University and taught at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. And he used to be an actor. He lives just outside London inside an ever-expanding book, comic and DVD library.