Blurring the lines of fact and fiction, this interesting mix of documentary and music, showing 24 hours in the life of alternative musician Nick Cave, is pretty much the perfect showcase for Cave’s style. Despite its occasionally self-indulgent tendencies and its often pretentious monologues, 20,000 Days On Earth works brilliantly, probably because of how completely unique it is. There’s a beautiful montage of Nick’s life to date which opens the film, and wryly amusing conversations with Ray Winstone (about aging) and a therapist (about his Father), but the undisputed highlight of the film is the awesome live footage; in particular, an intense rendition of Stagger Lee suggests Cave might be one of the best live performers in the world.
Punch Drunk Love (2002)
Adam Sandler’s best film and performance by a fair distance, Punch Drunk Love is so wonderfully made because it isn’t an Adam Sandler film; it’s a Paul Thomas Anderson film. One of the greatest living directors, Anderson uses Sandler’s trademark schtick to excellent effect in the story of social misfit Barry Egan (Sandler), who tries to romance Emily Watson whilst ripping off a pudding company and battling a sleazy phone sex operator (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in a fantastic cameo). Unlike other Sandler characters, who are supposed to be fun loving heroes, Barry is a deeply disturbing, unpredictable character, and Sandler rises to the occasion with a genuinely Oscar-worthy performance. It’s a performance so good, it makes you question if Sandler really is as bad as you remember…
Grown Ups 2 (2013)
…that is, until you watch a film as staggeringly awful as Grown Ups 2. I only watched the film because of the excellent Worst Idea of All Time podcast, in which two New Zealand comedians watched the film once a week for a year, and nothing could prepare me for how baffling bad it is. It seems that I’d give the film the lowest grade possible and savage it, but actually, I think this film is far too confusing and inexplicable to call it a complete failure. In its total lack of humour, plot, or human characters, Grown Ups 2 approaches the avant-garde. As a comedy, it’s one of the least successful films ever made. As an experience, I can’t imagine ever forgetting the truly abysmal Grown Ups 2.
The Acid House (1998)
The only possible reason for The Acid House’s existence is that producers assumed the success of Trainspotting meant any Irvine Welsh novel could make for a great film. This, sadly, is not the case. Like any portmanteaux film, The Acid House is inconsistent from section to section. The Granton Star Cause, in which hapless Boab has the worst week of his life and gets transformed into a fly by God, has a decent first half, and Boab’s conversation with God is the film’s highlight, but it quickly descends into crude scatological humour. A Soft Touch, the film’s weakest segment, has a great performance from Kevin McKidd as a cuckolded husband, but otherwise alternates between irritating and depressing. The titular segment, in which Ewan Bremner’s drug addict swaps bodies with a newborn baby, is the best segment of the film, with enough trippy visuals and black humour to counter balance the awful animatronic baby. The Acid House isn’t a particularly bad film, and there are flashes of Irvine Welsh wit, but it’s too deliberately grotty and unpleasant to be anything particularly good.
Rescue Dawn (2007)
Roger Ebert famously said that it was impossible for Werner Herzog to make a boring film. Having seen Rescue Dawn, I respectfully disagree. Despite Christian Bale giving an outstanding performance, one of the best of his career, the film is just too drawn out to be as effective as it needs to be. A two hour long film with about ninety minutes of interesting material, Herzog knows how to shoot in the jungle and direct physical intensity, but he struggles to keep a strong pace and write compelling characters. Bale’s performance is enough to recommend the film, but it’s not enough to say Rescue Dawn is an above average film.
Waking Life (2001)
I’ve always admired Richard Linklater for his ability to aimlessly shift from mainstream comedies (School of Rock) to Oscar worthy drama (Boyhood, Before Midnight) to bizarre experimentation (A Scanner Darkly, Tape). With that said, he’s a far from perfect director, especially in his more experimental fazes, and Waking Life is as flawed a film as any he’s made. Shot on digital cameras and painstakingly animated over nearly two years, Waking Life showcases some truly gorgeous imagery as a young man wanders around various dreams, listening to lectures from a variety of different people on a variety of different subjects. If that sounds like Linklater’s breakthrough film Slacker, that’s because Waking Life is almost identical in its rambling philosophical debates. Despite its wonderful animation, Waking Life is very dull, its visual style failing to counter balance the endless complicated talks. A bold creative idea, and a beautiful looking film, but otherwise Waking Life is too slow and uninteresting to engage.
They Came Together (2014)
Given its abundance of great lines and visual gags, I was amazed to read how lowly They Came Together scored with audiences. A brilliant parody of just about every rom-com of the last three decades, David Wain’s film centres on Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler’s ‘will-they-won’t-they’ relationship. At an Airplane-like pace, the film fires out an immense amount of jokes; if one misses, there’s another zinger just around the corner. As good a genre-takedown as any I can remember, They Came Together only falters in its final third, where the jokes slow down and it threatens to become the very film it’s parodying. It’s silly, it’s ridiculous, it’s over the top, and it features a huge amount of big laughs.
The Invention of Lying (2009)
As a huge Ricky Gervais fan/defender, it pains me to say that The Invention of Lying is one of the most self-important, pretentious, and, most worrying of all, unfunny comedies of the last decade. Gervais writes, directs and stars (never a good sign) as the only man who can lie in a world where everyone speaks the truth. The concept is flawed from the get-go, as Gervais’ idea of the truth is that everyone says the rudest, most blunt thing they can. Genuinely moving scenes like Gervais inventing heaven to soothe his dying mother suggest a much darker film at heart; one can imagine Charlie Brooker using this concept in Black Mirror to more interesting effect. Gervais, on the other hand, creates a bizarre mesh of generic rom-com and religious parable. The awkward tonal shifts, wasted cameos and far too blunt subtext could be forgiven if the film managed a single laugh; that one of the world’s most successful comedians can’t even force a smile suggests this project should have never made it past the drawing board.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
With a cast including Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, and Jonathan Pryce, how could Glengarry Glen Ross ever fail? Adapted by David Mamet from his own stage play of the same name, this tale of four insurance salesman is home to one of the greatest screenplays of all time; Mamet’s spiky dialogue flies off the screen with speed and flair, as each very capable actor takes turns spitting bile at another. Everyone remembers Alec Baldwin’s iconic ‘Coffee’s For Closers’ speech, Baldwin threatening to steal the film in a scene written for the film, but there are endless amounts of great moments; Jack Lemmon hounding a potential buyer, Al Pacino working his charms on Jonathan Pryce, Pacino tearing down boss Kevin Spacey, and the shifting power play of Lemmon and Spacey in an incredibly written confrontation. One of the great American screenplays and one of the finest films of its decade, Glengarry Glen Ross is close to perfection.