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Best of 2018

December 31st, 2018 No comments

This has been a wonderful year for me in every way – and here are some of my best things from it:

Music

 My favourite album didn’t make any of  Top 50 lists in the magazines – Bennett Wilson Poole’s eponymous debut was a fabulous slice of Americana with Byrds style guitars – all the more unusual for being produced by three old geezers from Oxford (including Danny Wilson from Danny and the Champions) – great songs and they know how to play live as well, as we saw them at Kings Place in London.  Also loved Spiritualized’s new offering And Nothing Hurt (anything Jason Pearce does is always worth a listen, and they are another band who play a blinder live). Talking of live performances, I enjoyed David Byrne’s renaissance, and although there are some filler tracks on his new album, ‘Everybody’s Coming To My House’ is certainly single of the year.

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Film

‘Emma Get Your Gun’ – The Favourite

The best film of the year only just makes it in time – The Favourite deserves all the accolades currently being showered on it, as it’s funny, inventive, raucous, rude and witty: all the qualities I like in a movie. While Roma was also superb.

Best documentary in another strong year for my favourite genre was the extraordinary Three Identical Strangers, a labour of love and one of the few that had the legs – well three pairs of them – to go to the full feature length. And both The Rider and American Animals blurred the line between documentary and fiction to great effect.

Books

I have personal reasons for liking If Not Critical by the late great Eric Griffiths – see an earlier post – and Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God by Tony Hoagland who also died this year and was to my mind the most wonderful American poet.

But mostly I’ve been reading old classics, from Ian Fleming’s muscular Moonraker – so much better than the piss poor film – to Graham Greene’s Quiet American and Robert Pinsky’s tremendous translation of Dante’s Inferno, the best of the considerable pack.

And the very best wishes for 2019 to all my discerning readers.

‘Roma’: Mexico City in the 1970s

December 10th, 2018 2 comments

 

I like a director with a truly visual imagination – which surprisingly few have – and Alfonso Cuarón qualifies in every way.  I loved Gravity for the formality of its visual approach – almost the entire film was shot on the same focal length of lens, apart from the ‘dream sequence’ which was shot on a slightly wider one so the audience was disconcerted without quite knowing why.

But I was still not quite prepared for quite how good his new movie Roma is. Cuarón was his own director of photography, and his black-and-white camerawork is luminous and inspired.

I also have a strong affinity for the place and time – Mexico City in the 1970s where I lived for a while and wrote Tequila Oil: Getting Lost in Mexico. Although of course I remember it in colour.

 

What impresses me so much is the control and confidence with which Cuarón wields his camera. The film genuinely inhabits the space: mainly a suburban house in Mexico City but also some diverse landscapes and startling juxtapositions.

When I lived in Mexico City the arthouse cinemas showed a lot of Fellini and this reminded me of them – particularly when we visit the wasteland outside Mexico City where, as a human cannonball is shot into a safety net, we follow the film’s heroine in search of the father of her child.

This is not some softshoe indie shuffle, but a film with heart and purpose. At its heart is the Mixteca maid Cleo (played by non-professional newcomer Yalitza Aparicio) who  has a quiet and moving resignation in the face of some of the humiliations and tragedies life throws at her. I defy anybody to watch the penultimate scene when the children are swimming in a dangerous ocean and she wades into the waves to try to save them without a lump to the throat.

It’s a shame that Gabriel García Márquez never allowed anybody to film One Hundred Years of Solitude, as Cuarón would be the perfect director for the project, perhaps as a longer box set.