Everything Is Nice

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2009 Everything Is Nice Film Awards

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Film Of The Year: Waltz With Bashir

A simply amazing blend of documentary, autobiography and fiction. That Ari Folman has attempted to examine his experiences of the 1982 Lebanon War in this way and succeeded with such surety is impressive enough but Waltz With Bashir is also an extremely stylish film. I hate the word “brave” as applied to artists but the fact that Folman has brought such a strong aesthetic sensibility to such an uncompromising subject matter (the Sabra and Shatila massacre is at the heart of the film) speaks of a great deal of confidence. This confidence was entirely justified.

I subscribed to LoveFilm in 2009 and as a consequence I saw a ton of dire films. However, I also saw a handful of quite brilliant ones so instead of the runners up here is the rest of a top five:

2) Synecdoche, New York
3) Hunger
4) I’m Not There
5) Gomorrah

SF Film Of The Year: Let The Right One In

A pretty bad year for SF cinema but everyone agreed this was a clear standout. This is doubly impressive since it came at a time when vampires had become as deadeningly overexposed as zombies. I did actually watch Twilight this year and thought it was an enjoyable enough slice of teen wangst but my God, enough is enough. Unlike most contemporary vampire stories, Let The Right One In managed to convey the weight and the trauma inherent in the condition and produce a proper tragedy or, more specifically, a poisoned love story:

Leaving the cinema I felt much the same way as after Eternal Sunshine For The Spotless Mind. Both films offer a final image of hope and fragile happiness but in both cases the audience knows that such hope is entirely illusory as we have already been exposed to the cyclical outcome.

Runner up: Moon

Children’s Animation Of The Year: Kung Fu Panda

I rented this and then went straight out and bought it. It is a pretty much pitch perfect take on a familiar story which rises above this by being genuinely funny (with nicely understated surreal moments) and having surprisingly beautiful animation and sophisticated direction for an American production. And Jack Black is much more personable when you can’t actually see him.

Runners up: Shrek 2, Aliens Versus Monsters

Hexadecimal Award For Worst Reboot Of The Year: Terminator Salvation

Despite having been burnt many times in the past, when I first heard about this I was relatively optimistic. Christian Bale as John Conner? That sounds pretty good, right? Oh, McG is directing? Hmm, well, er, Charlie’s Angels was actually quite fun. What’s that? The film has come mired in production hell? Oh. Even if you were completely unaware of all the script and personnel problems that had dogged it, they are all there to be seen on the screen. It is a total camel of a film; a testament to the danger of star power and the weakness of the Hollywood machine. Remarkably it even ends up making T3: Rise Of The Machines seem slightly less shit.

Runners up: Star Trek, Wolverine

Non-Franchise Turd Of The Year: Mutant Chronicles

A pile of shit.

Runners up: Black Sheep Drag Me To Hell

Pleasant Surprise Of The Year: 300

I saw this after Zack Synder’s heavy-handed assault on Watchmen so it was nice to find that everything that was so crass about that film worked surprisingly well in the context of Spartans beating the shit out of everyone. This high-end tosh actually makes me want to see what he does next.

Runners up: Die Hard 4.0, Babylon AD

Best Jason Statham Film Of The Year – Crank

I’ve got a soft spot for The Statham and somehow I ended up watching most of his back catalogue this year. By and large, it is unremarkable but mildly diverting stuff. Then I got to Crank. Fuck me. Statham is Chev Chelios, an English gangster in LA, who is poisoned and then has to artificially keep up his adrenaline levels to stop himself from dying. You can sort of see where the film is going from that brief synopsis but nothing prepares you for the awesome insanity of what follows.

Runner up: Crank 2

WTF!? Award: Inglourious Basterds

Obviously Crank was the dead cert for this slot but I thought it deserved a category of its own. So instead the WTF!? Award goes to a film which I think it is safe to say took everyone by surprise. My expectations were progressively lowered as its release date drew closer so it was a pleasant (but confusing) surprise to sit down in the cinema and be faced with such a startling mix of the audacious, the clever and the plain bonkers. I hope Tarantino isn’t stuck in this mad, recursive loop though because much as I enjoyed Inglourious Basterds I would hate it to become the only sort of film he makes.

Runners up: Zombie Strippers, Shadowboxer

Written by Martin

27 December 2009 at 11:11

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2009 Everything Is Nice Book Awards

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Book Of The Year:The Crimson Petal And The White by Michel Faber

Looking back on what I’ve read this year, I’ve actually had a fairly mediocre year. This massive wodge of a book was one of the few true highlights. It has been sat on my shelves for some time, rather intimidatingly, with its 800 plus pages of small type but I finally had a chance to spend some time with it and, far from it being difficult or a struggle, it was a pure joy to read. Faber has produced an immensely nimble novel and his evocation of the Victorian period from a more honest perspective than was available at the time is extraordinary. If you think Dickens looks a bit dull and that lashings of piss and spunk improve most things, this is the book for you.

Runners up: His Illegal Self by Peter Carey, In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield

Why Didn’t I read That Before? Award: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

In fact – good as Faber’s novel is –this was the best thing I read all year but I’ve arbitrarily split the categories between recent-ish and old-ish stuff. It made sense last year (although it still didn’t stop one A Roberts from teasing) but maybe I’ll drop it next year. Anyway, this is a bloody masterpiece. Reading Farewell, My Lovely in 2009, it still seems completely fresh; approaching some genre-changing material considerably after the fact, it can seems tired and dull in the wake of the evolution it has triggered (see, for example, Neuromancer) but, if anything, the opposite is true here as, for all the imitation, very little since has approached the quality of the original. The prose is pretty much peerless and at least some of 2010 will be devoted to a further exploration of Chandler.

Runners up: Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, The Seige Of Krishnapur by JG Farrell

Science Fiction Book Of The Year: In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield

In my review I concluded:

In Great Waters is a delight to read, an elegant and contained work. People frequently profess to like clean, unadorned prose when often what they mean is prose that is charmlessly functional, prose that gets you from A to B without needing you to really to engage. Whitfield is the real deal, her prose is clear like a mountain lake; cool, beautiful, bracing, affording glimpses of great depths. I am extremely eager to see what she will do next.

Yes, it was so good I almost lapsed into blurbing… This was a lovely unexpected treat; a book I knew little about and which bowled me over from the first chapter. Her debut was nowhere near as impressive but, as I said in my review, only forward.

Runners up: The City & The City by China Miéville, The Ask And The Answer by Patrick Ness

Children’s Book Of The Year: The Ask And The Answer by Patrick Ness

There is absolutely no doubt that Monsters Of Men, the concluding volume of Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, is my most anticipated book of 2010. The first volume, The Knife Of Never Letting Go was an unexpected delight: a great children’s novel, a great adventure novel, a great SF novel. The Ask And The Answer took this to the next level:

The Ask And The Answer may be slower and less exhilarating to begin with than its predecessor but that is because it requires a fundamental change of mindset from the reader. This is no adventure: it is a war story in which our erstwhile hero and heroine gradually become a concentration camp guard and a suicide bomber. Although obviously co-erced to one degree or another, Ness never shies away from showing that both Todd and Viola still have agency and are morally compromised by their complicity in the inescapable crimes that surround them.

Runners up: Epic by Conor Kostick, Thirsty by MT Anderson

Worst Book Of The Year: Biohell by Andy Remic

Just bad:

Remic is very much a nuts and bolts type of guy; at one point, he even refers to a spaceship as having “pistons.” His characters take after him. Keenan is the sort of bloke who thinks the Marlboro Man is a poof (although, of course, he would spell it “puff”). He is a man’s man and this book, with its casual misogyny throughout, is not one you can imagine many women picking up. Even if you can put aside this machismo though, even if all you want is a book about blowing shit up, there is still not much to recommend Biohell… There is no attempt to make the plot believable or, even, coherent, let alone concentrating on niceties like structure and pace. Characters flail from plot coupon to McGuffin to deus ex machine without any real direction… The book is set thousands of years in the future but it could be set last week: there are references to Nazis, Arnie and even Ronan Keating. A particularly insular Britishness is on display here which might be a good corrective to the parochial American world view so prevalent in SF except for the fact that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Remic is now writing fantasy novels for Angry Robot which are notable for their incredibly bad covers.

Runners up: Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

Disappointment Of The Year: Nights Of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton

Well, let’s not revisit the issue too much. Instead let’s look forward: the sequel, City Of Ruin, is out next year and you can read an extract here.

Runners up: Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152 by David Petersen, Saga by Conor Kostick

Guilty Pleasure Of The Year: God Of Clocks by Alan Campbell

This is a messy book, a sloppy book but one I couldn’t help loving. I came to God Of Clocks with a great deal of accumulated good will from the previous two novels and if Campbell didn’t exactly squander this good will, I can understand why his concluding volume pissed off a lot of people. Still, I found myself able to go with the flow and there is no denying it was a lot of fun:

He has written the fantasy equivalent of New Space Opera; widescreen baroque, indeed. He has produced a series infused with gothic imagery but devoid of po-faced goth sensibility. He has populated it with cartoonish characters which the reader is nonetheless able to feel a great deal of affection for. Above all else he has achieved the holy grail of producing a novel that is unadulterated fun, a book that was written as entertainment and is unremittingly entertaining.

In the end, that carried the day.

Runners up: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Martin Martin’s On the Other Side by Mark Wernham

Most Overrated Book Of The Year: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson (translated by Reg Keeland)

Not only only does it have all the problems one would expect of a contemporary thriller (ie the plot is preposterous) but thewriter is clearly more at home with journalism than prose, the translation is poor and it has a very queasy relationship with violence against women. I know people who have found the series absolutely compulsive but I had no problem stopping after the first one.

Runners up: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway, Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

Written by Martin

26 December 2009 at 10:52

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2008 Everything Is Nice Film Awards

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Film Of The Year: WALL-E

I don’t have enough superlatives, the praise that has to be lavished on Pixar is almost unseemly. Everything you could possibly want: beautiful, funny, romantic, uplifting, heartbreaking. It is also noticable that despite being an animated film the direction, cinematography and acting are better than that of most films I saw this year.

Runners up: No Country For Old Men, The Dark Knight, In Bruges and Dead Man’s Shoes

SF Film Of Year: WALL-E

Obviously WALL-E takes the honours here as well. Every other SF film I watched this year was shit, except, to my considerable surprise, the over-the-top mutant thrills of Planet Terror.

Runner up: Planet Terror

Pixar Film Of The Year: WALL-E

Er, see above.

Runners up: Ratatouille and Cars

Pleasant Surprise Of The Year: Apocalypto

This was a great year for being nicely confounded by films I wasn’t expecting much from. I borrowed this from my brother-in-law on the grounds that Mel Gibson is a batshit insane bigot and I didn’t want to put any money in his pocket. The reviews had intrigued me though. It turned out to be an incredibly violent action movie, filmed in a dead language and using the grammar of science fiction to tell an amazingly alien story. A unique and extraordinary achievement.

Runners up: Tell No One, Bridge To Terabithia, Planet Terror and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Disappointment Of The Year: Be Kind Rewind

The flipside of being pleasantly surprised was that several of the films I had been looking forward to ended up being disappointments. Chief amongst these was Be Kind Rewind which never lived up to the promise of its premise or the considerable talent of all those involved. In keeping with its central premise it has a half rehearsed almost panto feel which means despite the brief bursts of brilliance it is mostly a sloppy failure.

Runners up: Sweeney Todd, Bender’s Big Score, Deathproof and Doomsday

Diminishing Returns Award For Worst Film Of The Year: AVP2

A film so pointless I can’t even be bothered to give it its full name. Extraordinarily AVP wasn’t the nadir of this franchise because this film manages to strip away the last vestige of menace and cool from bothsets of creatures. Notable only for the following exchange:

Macho guy: “What are you guys, stoned?”
Stoners: “Yeah…”
Macho guy: “Grab some rifles.”

Runners up: The Chronicles Of Riddick and The Scorpion King

Turn Up For The Books Award For Not Entirely Shit Franchise Film Of The Year: Blade Trinity

How can you not love a film that features the phrase “cock juggling thundercunt”.

Runner up: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skulls

WTF!? Award: Southland Tales

A stunning act of megalomania on the part of Richard Kelly. Southland Tales is the last three acts of a sprawling six act story composed of such an immense load of cobblers that it defies all description. My incredulous review is up at Strange Horizons (this review also examines the rampant what-the-fuckery of the deeply disappointing Doomsday.)

Runners up: Tropic Thunder (in a good way) and Doomsday

Superhero Film Of The Year: Iron Man

You heard. I saved this till last because I knew it would be controversial. The Dark Knight is clearly a better film but it is more a psychological crime drama than a superhero movie. Iron Man is unabashedly a silly costume story but pulls it off – complete with perfectly executed origin story – better than any other one so far. Another show-stealing turn from Robert Downey Jr.

Runner up: The Dark Knight (obviously)

Written by Martin

30 December 2008 at 17:48

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2008 Everything Is Nice Book Awards

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Book Of The Year: House Of Meetings by Martin Amis

Yellow Dog was a mess, his journalism has been lacklustre and his commentary has been bigoted, idiotic and disappointing. House Of Meetings makes you forget all this. It is a blinding work of genius which is in no way diminished by channelling Nabokov so strongly. More of this and less op-eds please (although The Pregnant Widow sounds a bit rubbish.)

Runners up: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and The Astonishing Life Of Octavian Nothing: Traitor To The Nation by MT Anderson

Science Fiction Book Of The Year: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

There are undoubtably problems with this book and my runners up are perhaps better novels but this is an astonishing work of science fiction of a sort that no one but Stephenson could produce. As I said in my review: “one part hubris to one part taking the piss to one part gnarly geek awesomeness.”.

Runners Up: The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon.

Worst Book Of The Year: The Edge Of Reason by Melinda Snodgrass

To quote from the opening of my as yet unpublished review:

Imagine if Richard Dawkins was not only American but retarded. Imagine he taught himself to read using the work of illiterate megasellers like James Patterson and Tess Gerritsen. Imagine he further fleshed out his understanding of human nature on a diet of romance novels and misery memoirs. Finally, imagine he stayed up one night getting drunk and watching piss-poor police procedurals before having the sudden brainwave of re-writing American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Imagine all that and you have imagined Melinda Snodgrass’s dire The Edge Of Reason and thus saved yourself the pain of actually reading it.

Runners up: The Electric Church by Jeff Somers and A Short History Of Tractors In Ukranian by Marina Lewycka

Disappointment Of The Year: Life Class by Pat Barker

This isn’t a bad book, in fact, it is a good book. However, after the stunning duet of Border Crossing and Double Vision this feels like a pale retread of the Regeneration Trilogy. I want more from my favourite British writer.

Runners up: Un Lun Dun by China Miéville and Matter by Iain M Banks

Guilty Pleasure Of The Year: Death’s Head by David Gunn

AS the book’s jacket tells us, Gunn is “smartly dressed, resourceful and discreet, [he] has an impressive collection of edged weapons and sleeps with a shotgun under his bed.” This is braindead MilSF that somehow managed to charm me. I must pick up the second volume.

Runners up: Choke by Chuck Palahnuik and Bunker 10 by JA Henderson

Most Overrated Book Of The Year: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

I form part of a nucleus of British SF fans who recoiled from the near universal praise for this simplistic, didactic novel. The idea of spoonfeeding kids the tools of dissent is an admirable one but I could have done without the cartoonish politics, non-existant characterisation, rubbish plot and – most of all – the Cory Sue protagonist.

Runners up: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff and The H-Bomb Girl by Steven Baxter

Why Didn’t I read That Before? Award: The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

Effortlessly brilliant.

Runners up: The Unbearable Lightness Of Being by Milan Kundera and A Canticle For Lieberwitz by Walter Miller Jr

Written by Martin

28 December 2008 at 19:41

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