Happy 10th Anniversary from The Post!
The Not-Very-Secret History of 24 Lies A Second
Ten years, two hundred columns, two hundred and sixty four movie reviews and a whole bunch of other waffly bits about films, and it all comes down to this: a self-indulgent retrospective and a Best Of selection? Oh well, things being as they are I suppose one should be grateful.
The Self-Indulgent Retrospective
Looking back at the origins of the column, there was no real intention for it to be a regular feature. The first column was submitted on spec as a standalone piece. I wasn't invited to become the Post film critic by the then-editors: there was no reason why they should, as I was hardly a well-known or especially active figure around the site (some things haven't changed). It just happened that there was a movie coming out I was very keen to see and it seemed to me I had things to say about it other people might be interested in reading.
I think the single biggest factor in inspiring me to write film reviews at all was the existence of another site named Stomp Tokyo, to which I was a frequent visitor. Stomp Tokyo's still around today, but most of their back catalogue of reviews has gone, sadly. Even so, if you look at some of the pieces there I think you will see their style and approach is not very different from that of 24LAS.
The initial Planet of the Apes review was quite well received, and, ever eager to thrust myself forward, I offered to start writing a regular column. Events in early September 2001 meant it was a little while before 24LAS was up and running properly, but eventually the column had a title and a logo and a regular slot in the Post. Initially I was somewhat dubious about being able to find new films that I actually wanted to see on a weekly basis and so a regular feature of early 24LAS was golden oldie reviews, usually hand-picked from my own VHS collection.
But fairly quickly I found myself making the effort to go and see films I wouldn't otherwise have bothered with, occasionally with fairly grim results (I'm the only person I know who's ever seen Original Sin) but more frequently very pleasant ones (Kiss of the Dragon, The Others). After the column took a mini-break in mid-2002 the golden oldies were mostly dispensed with and it was new stuff all the way for the next couple of years.
By late 2004, though, I was beginning to find myself a little burned out with the whole undertaking. Dragging myself out to the multiplex every week, frequently to see a film as indifferent as King Arthur or The Village, was beginning to feel like a job, and one I was paying to do. So I decided, or so I thought, to knock the whole thing on the head and move on to something a bit more creative (and cheap). I concluded (appropriately enough, I thought) with a review of the original Planet of the Apes and said my adieus.
All the jokes I'd worked out in advance for my review of Alien Vs Predator ,(the first post-column movie I saw) were lost to posterity, but it was definitely a relief to only have to go and see films that really caught my interest. There was a period in early 2005 where I didn't even go to the cinema for about three months: my family thought there was something wrong with me.
Nevertheless I found it almost impossible to kick the reviewing habit completely: first there was a Christmas special, then various 'stealth' 24LASes which appeared on the site but not in the Post itself. Events were really taken out of my hands (or so it felt) when the then-editor of the Post fell ill and I stepped in to take over. I immediately found myself short of articles and the obvious thing to do was to revive my own regular slot (which at its height had acquired something of a following).
The column ran on-and-off between Summer 2005 and early Spring of 2007, matters somewhat complicated by technical problems and the fact I moved to Japan in August of 2006. Personal stuff and issues with having to use Japanese internet cafes meant that h2g2 was spared hearing my thoughts on films such as The Prestige, 300, and Crank at the time I saw them (although I am considering a Revisited slot for notable movies of the last ten years that slipped through the net).
One of the many nice things about Japan is that they don't dub their movies. When I moved on to places like Italy, Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka I was less fortunate and the supply of raw material for the column dried up a bit, as it simply wasn't worth my going to the cinema that often. Nevertheless, whenever possible I tried to contribute what I could.
And then, in September 2009, the Post went weekly again and… hmm. I think it would be fairest to say there was a miscommunication between the then editors and myself, with the impression being given that there wasn't really a guaranteed slot for a regular column any more.
Still, I wasn't about to stop doing something that had by now become a habit, and so 24LAS went blog-tastic. The blog is still a going concern (the title has changed) and gives me the opportunity to write about films without needing to be topical. I am never too far away from reviewing another 50s sci-fi B-movie or Hammer horror.
The news of the BBC's disposal of h2g2 back in January concerned me more than I'd expected it to, and like many others I came back to the site to see what I could do to help. 'Write a film review' was not the response I'd expected, but it was the one I got.
And so it has continued ever since. I fully expect and hope to be writing about films here for as long as the Post, the cinema, and I myself are all still going concerns.
The Best-Of Selection
'Choose four or five articles you really like,' they said to me when it came to this part of the undertaking. Hmm.
A lot of the really early columns I now find slightly embarrassing to read again, mainly due to my fondness for going off-topic and pontificating quite cluelessly. Nevertheless I still stand by what I said about Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in December 2001– another serendipitous double-header.
One piece from the glory years of the column that's apparently gone on to have something of a life of its own is another double-header: my review of The Bourne Supremacy and Catwoman from August 2004. At the time I thought this was just a reasonably on-the-money and nicely-written pair of reviews, and it was only 18 months later that I learned that the Catwoman review in particular was being printed off and passed around and being read out at parties, in certain circles. (I don't get invited to the right kind of party, obviously.)
The piece from my globetrotting years which really stands out in my memory (other than my written-but-never-submitted review of Crank: High Voltage) is what I said about The Wind That Shakes The Barley from December 2006. This is a rare example of a film the very quality of which makes it more troubling than it would be were it shoddily made. Normally when watching a film I can happily lose myself, but throughout this one I was uncomfortably aware of my status as a lone Briton, with all the history that entails, surrounded by foreigners who were treating the film as truth.
And finally, from more recent times I remain very happy with what I said about Surrogates and Gamer, two fairly low-profile SF movies. I haven't actually watched either of them since, admittedly, but you can't have everything.
The Semi-Obligatory Top Ten List…
…of the ten best films from the last ten years. As will soon become obvious there are a number of fudges involved here, not least that not all of these films have actually been reviewed in 24LAS. Well, it's my anniversary and I can do what I like (right, Eds?).
2001 - 2003: an obvious fudge as I opt for Peter Jackson's mighty Lord of the Rings trilogy as a single pick, for hopefully obvious reasons. Massively influential and magnificently entertaining.
2003: Fighting off the urge to choose The Transporter as my favourite film of 2003, I will instead opt for Peter Weir's classy seagoing drama Master and Commander, certainly my favourite Russell Crowe movie.
2004: Another slight fudge as I opt for The Bourne Supremacy as a representative of the series as a whole. I honestly can't decide whether the second or third movie is best; but I am certain that this series shows you can still make an intelligent thriller to a very high standard and be met with deserved success.
2005: Not the most obvious choice, but I do remember that Neil Marshall's The Descent did its job– scaring the hell out of an audience– with brilliant efficiency and economy.
2006: Or, the Bourne influence, as Eon took James Bond back to basics in Casino Royale. I think the jury is still out on the long-term wisdom of the reboot started here, but as a stand-alone movie this is a terrific take on one of cinema's greatest icons.
2007: It came out in 2006 in the UK, but I didn't catch The Prestige until the following summer. A brilliantly tricksy movie from Christopher Nolan; how on Earth could he follow this?
2008: Hmm, it's that man again, this time directing The Dark Knight, another extraordinary take on a different set of cinematic icons. Right now Nolan is arguably the most exciting and interesting film director in the world…
2009:…which isn't to say that Peter Jackson's shot his bolt. He was, after all, producer of District 9 - thematically very similar to the (rather overrated, if you ask me) Avatar, but telling the story with much more intensity and grit and black humour.
2010: Christopher Nolan nearly got the treble for Inception, but in the end I went for Gareth Edwards' very original Monsters. It's all gone very quiet with regards to the mooted Godzilla reboot Edwards was supposedly attached to direct; I hope this is just production security. Even a bad Godzilla movie from Edwards would be interesting; a good one would be stunning.
2011: There have been a lot of good movies of all kinds out so far this year, but the one that impressed me the most was Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go, a film which hints at all kinds of uncomfortable truths about our own world while telling a very moving and believable story.
(Hmm, rather a lot of SF, horror, and fantasy there, looking back at the list, but then again those are my favourite genres…)
All that remains is for me to extend my enormous thanks to legendary Post Editor Emeritus Shazz for being so encouraging when I was getting started, Dr Mo, the artist responsible for the 24LAS logo, and all the various Post personnel responsible for checking my spelling over the last decade, especially Bel for luring me back here when I honestly thought it was all over and done with. Thanks also to you, of course, for reading, regardless of whether this is your first 24LAS or you've been a regular down the years .