I used to consider myself a film duff - that is, someone who has very little interest in films and knows virtually nothing about them. Then probably about the year 2002 I bought 'Yellow Submarine' on DVD, because my new PC had a DVD player. It was fab, but watching on a PC monitor wasn't the ideal way to see films - no comfy armchair for a start. Then Amazon sent me one of their promotional offers, a reasonably priced (i.e. cheapo cheapo) DVD player. I was away; I started collecting films, taking an interest in films, and keeping records on what I thought of them.

In 2003 'Gladiator' came out and became my first 'Film of the Year'.... and since then I have chosen one film each year that has had the greatest effect on me (although it doesn't have to be made that year). These are all films I can strongly recommend:

 2003    Gladiator

This was probably the first film made that used CGI in a really big, but unobtrusive way. It gave Ridley Scott control over the visuals to make it possible to re-create Rome and parts of the Empire in a convincing way. That's not why I chose this film though - it was actually because it had a great story, some brilliant dialogue ("My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius…."), good acting, and was the first 'swords and sandals' epic to be made since the heyday of  the '60s.


 2004    Spirited Away

I wish I could remember what made me buy this. I have always liked animation, but what prompted me to order this particular film from Amazon one day I just cannot say. Never mind, it was a revelation. No more was animation just a fancy word for 'cartoons', this was a validation of the creative and artistic capability that I had always felt lay inherent in the animation genre. And it opened the door to so much more...   people had been doing this kind of work in Japan for years!


 2005    The Merchant of Venice

This intrigued me - a Shakespeare play with Al Pacino in a major role? All I knew of Al Pacino was that he usually played gangsters. I hadn't seen The Godfather at this time, or I would have known that Al Pacino did rather more than say 'you doity rat'. I know better now. Anyway, I took the plunge and bought the DVD, and it blew my socks off! Everything was perfect, even the slight changes made to Shakespeare's masterpiece only added to the story.


 2006    Millennium Actress

I discovered Satoshi Kon's films in 2006 - Tokyo Godfathers, Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress were the order in which I saw them, and I know that's not the order they were released. Any of these could have been my film of the year, but while Tokyo Godfathers was, I thought, the most technically outstanding, the one that delighted me most was Millennium Actress. The way the story segues from present day reality to a connected montage of scenes that actually tell the story of Japanese cinema while relating the autobiography of the eponymous 'Millennium Actress' is inspired.


 2007    Flags of Our Fathers / Letters from Iwo Jima

Because Clint Eastwood mostly did spaghetti westerns (as far as I knew) I didn't pay much heed to him. Then Amazon.co.uk put this boxed set into their 'Recommendations' section. I was intrigued by the thought of covering a battle from both sides, with a film for each, so I gave it a try. What a revelation! This was highly intelligent cinema we had here, not just a couple of war films! And one has to admire Clint Eastwood's decision not to dub ''Letters from Iwo Jima' into English. 'Letters' is, for me, the better film, mostly because the sub-plots were better defined and the actual setting in the tunnels dug by the Japanese conveyed the claustrophobic atmosphere so well. Possibly, taken as a pair, the best war films ever made.


 2008    The Road Home

I bought this because it had Zhang Ziyi in it, and it was directed by Zhang Yimou, who had already impressed me mightily with House of Flying Daggers and Hero, both of which had featured Zhang Ziyi. This was an earlier work, so I wasn't expecting anything spectacular, but I do like Zhang Ziyi a lot, so I thought I'd give it a go. From the start of the film I was entranced, as the young businessman made his way to the village that was his childhood home to be greeted by the mayor and his secretary. The acting and dialogue seemed stilted, the film was black and white, but a sense of utter reality pervaded. Then the film goes to flashback and colour, and we get to see a very young-looking Ziyi Zhang looking absolutely enchanting as usual, but playing the part of an artless country girl in love with the earnest young teacher from the city. The plot is almost non-existent, but this film somehow pulls at the emotions in an extraordinary fashion. The countryside is sparse but beautiful, an incredibly apt counterpoint to the story that unfolds slowly and inevitably.


 2009    Paprika

Another film by Satoshi Kon, and a master work in psychological confusion. The music complements the visuals superbly.


 2010    Downfall

This is a totally convincing work from start to finish. The acting and sets are completely right, one could be completely convinced that this is a documentary film of the actual events except that a real documentary made in this period would not have the quality of image. The illusion is perhaps helped by lack of familiarity with the German actors involved, so that one is not distracted by suddenly realising that the person portraying, for example, Heinrich Himmler, was also in another film playing the part of a gardener, or suchlike. The remarkable thing about this film is that it appears as strictly non-judgemental; this is what happened, this is what these people were like. It goes a long way to help explain the phenomenon of Hitler and the Nazis to one who knows the events only in hindsight.


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