Monday, April 20, 2015

Greatest Films of All Time List 2015

Dear Friends and fellow Cineholics,
For over two years, I have had a pet project that I have been picking at and today I would like to share it with you. If you are receiving this, it is because you have demonstrated that you have some enthusiasm in cinema and may be interested in what I have attached. But before you downloading at what it is, let me tell you a story that best explains why I have done what I have done and its meaning. Then I will tell you about what is attached above.
Thrice in my life I have had the privilege of having practically unlimited access to cinema, which I abused to no end. Once these periods were over, the same feelings and ideas would cross my mind. Two years ago, such a period was ending and I needed to make conclusions on what I could do about these ideas.
1)       I learned that the films that would successfully get me to the theatre and take my money would not be the films I would necessarily enjoy (See Spider-man 3). All it means is that the marketing people did their work and attracted me with shiny things, whether it be a certain plot point, actors, directors or big boom effects. I feel that I can no longer trust my own judgement to pick films.
2)      At the same time, films that I would never pay money to see (films I have never heard of or films that are perceived to be not worth watching on the big screen) would deserve to be seen and watched because they were beautiful and worth my time. Last Love or Hachi are films like this that I very much enjoyed.
3)      The films that make ridiculous sums of money (Twilight), that have all the hype (SW Ep1) and that become crazy popular (Troy with over 300,000 Votes on IMDB) have no consistent basis to depict quality. The new rising garbage is Noah.
How can you find films that you will enjoy if you can’t trust yourself due to marketing, hype, success, or popularity? Many have said that this is what critics are for. I have become disillusioned with critics as I rarely find one that I agree with. I personally love the way Empire Magazine reviews their films. They’re entertaining and usually quite fair, but I don’t necessarily agree with their final verdict (Superman Returns got five stars).
Perhaps awards? The Academy Awards are the most prestigious in the film industry. However, most people know that there are a lot of politics involved and that what is popular today may prove to be average years later. For example, Chicago won Best Picture and yet I doubt one critic today would say it was the best film of 2002. Some films of that year worth mentioning are Infernal Affairs, City of God, Catch Me If You Can or Bourne Identity. All of these films of 2002 have ratings on IMDB that are considerably higher than Chicago. There is merit to the Best Picture/Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director awards but this is not the end all say on what is good. More on this later.
There are a number of other lists, companies, critics and such that are worth talking about but I will give them merit later.
The story of the attachment above really begins when I moved to rely on IMDB’s ranking system. IMDB does have its flaws but of all the platforms out there, this is the one database that is the most complete. There are other websites such as Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes but their interfaces are significantly biased. The score on Metacritic can be based on just a handful of reviews and the database is quite limited. Rotten Tomatoes primarily leans towards culminating what critics think, which I care little about. As far as I’m concerned, if you rate a film on either IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes you are a critic and your vote is worth just as much as Roger Ebert’s. Rotten Tomatoes only works if you look up the user score of the individual film. There is no search tool yet available on their website that allows you to search by user score. Thus, Rotten Tomatoes too becomes limited.
IMDB is primarily used by men. For action films like Bourne Identity, over six times the amount of men vote compared to women. For Romance films like Silver Linings Playbook, it’s a bit more than double. Thus, I encourage all women to go out there and vote to balance this all out. Nonetheless, IMDB allows one vote per user, and the average makes the score. This seems fair to me. I will also dispel the myth that it is mostly used by Americans. If you examine the ratings of the two films above, you will see three to five times the number of votes coming from non-US users. As I am not a Pro Member, I cannot tell you where they come from. Nonetheless, I would say that this suggests that IMDB is universal as well as complete and fair.
The IMDB top 250 should be the best list of quality out there, but it too has its limitations. Part of its formula requires a film to have over 25,000 votes. Only 3,450 films meet that requirement from a database of over 300,000 films. Thus, it is highly biased towards wide releases and popular films. If this requirement does not EVER change, then eventually, maybe the other films can catch up.
I thought 25,000 votes was too high so I lowered it to 9,000 votes, giving me 6,065 films to work with. However, if I were to lower it to 1,000 votes, it would result in 19,467 films. Films under 500 votes, in all practical sense, don’t exist. In time, I believe all the films that have at least 1,000 votes will eventually be brought up to 9,000 votes but this may take some time.
The second basic criterion is a film’s IMDB rating. My baseline is 8.0/10. A rating of 8.0 or more means that people who watched it loved it. From personal experience, anything I rate above 8.0 has personal bias attached to it. The highest ranked film is the Shawshank Redemption. Does this make it the greatest film ever made? Of course not. What it means is that if we were to ask 100 people what they thought of the film, presuming they saw it, more than 90% would give it a score between 9.0 and 10. It’s not the greatest film ever made, it’s the film that we can all agree is very good.
In time, I developed one further point. A film’s rating on IMDB is limited at least until a film is one year old. Within that one year, the score is heavily biased by all sorts of factors. Only after a full year does a score stabilise. Really it should be two years but let’s see what happens. What is interesting are the films that hold an 8.0 or more for years and years. If a film is watchable and enjoyed for many years after its release, then these are the films that I should be watching. Presumably, I have the highest chance of liking them regardless of personal bias.
Over the last year, this project has expanded to include other factors into the list in order to be more complete or thorough. I also thought it shouldn’t be limited to feature films so I expanded it to include TV-movies, Direct-to-Video and shorts. This didn’t add much, but I wanted to be complete. The three listed rules tallied up to 572 films/shorts/TV/Direct entries (60.6% of the list). After that things get more complicated. I needed to develop a clear way to explore the limitations of the first two rules.
1)      Votes – As mentioned there are plenty of films that don’t have 9,000 votes but do have at least 1,000 and still hold the rating of 8.0 or higher (currently 476 films). I needed a way to fish out the golden nuggets and this is where I use other lists, critics and organisations to help me identify which of these under-represented films should be given a chance. 118 more films were identified (12.5% of the list). I got into more detail on which organisations and such within in the list.
2)      8.0 – What about the films that are just shy of making 8.0? Well I noticed some 7.9 films would be teetering sometimes into the 8.0 zone. Therefore, I decided that the top ten 7.9 films would also be added (1.06% of the list).
This totals to 700 films. We can call this the List Proper.
At that point, I looked at the remaining films that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards and decided to make one exception in this case. I figured if you’re going through a list like this, I might as well as the remaining 40 films that didn’t make it with the above rules. As much as I did dismiss the awards earlier, they are a key part of annual film identity. This makes a total of 740.
The remaining 204 films fall under the final criteria that I set out. I noticed that certain personalities had already succeeded in having multiple entries within the above parameters, for example Stanley Kubrick has 9. Thus, I decided that, for any actor/actress or director who has over three entries already on the list, their 7.8 and above films would be added. 26 of these films have a score over 8.0 or above. Thus, 178 films are on the list with a score of 7.8 or 7.9 simply because the personality attached to them has already proven to be talented.
2015 LIST
Today, I submit for your approval a list of 944 films that has been compiled without personal bias. It is a compilation of statistical data and factors gathered over two years and cross referenced and double checked. If you find any mistakes or ideas for further expansion, I would welcome them for next year’s list. 
Please use this link to download the list
This year’s list adds entries up to 2013.
Since my wife and I have committed to watching films from this list, we have noticed our cinema enjoyment has increased significantly as we are discovering many films that are partly unheard of yet stand up to the test of time and above all else are excellent. I invite you to create a column on this list, tick off the films you have seen and enjoy discovering excellent cinema from all over the world and from any point in time. We have been watching them partly thematically and partly randomly.
If you wish to unsubscribe to related updates, please reply and tell me. If you think other people would be interested in such emails, please let me know and I will add them to the mailing list.
I hope you will join me and discover what amazing cinema there is out there.
Thank you to all who have supported this project.
Looking forward to your comments
PS. 2015 Challenge = How many of the 88 Academy Award Best Picture films have you seen?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Iron Man 3 Rant

Spoiler, Spoiler, Spoiler – This is meant for people who saw Iron Man 3. If you haven’t and want to read this – you are silly. 

I need to get this out there now, as within a few weeks no one will care about the sort of nitpicking that I like to do. I just saw Iron Man 3 in the IMAX with 3D and I have a lot to say about it. It was not horrible. I can’t say I hated it, there were a lot of innovative and interesting things but, man, there were also a lot of things wrong with it. Truth be told, there is only one film I can compare it to: Spider-man 3. SM3 was a film where the producers went too far and as a result ruined a good franchise. I honestly don’t know what Marvel was thinking but they went a little far down that road and seriously hurt their IM franchise. I will explain. 

Now, there are three areas that need to be looked at for this film and I will do this from the most constructive to the least constructive. First, geek rage aside, just watching it as a film goer; the kind of film goer who, let’s say, just saw Avengers and was curious to see what came next. Second, full geek rage - I have read the better part of the last 7 years of Iron Man comics and I feel that I am in a position to say something about it. Third, which is far less constructive, things that I would have liked in it that weren’t there.

I like movies, as most of my friends know. I can put aside most of my personal biases and see a movie for exactly what it is rather than what I would have wanted it to be. I find it far more enjoyable that way. I can hate a movie as a geek and love it as a film goer (for instance my love hate relationship with Casino Royal – James Bond yet not). As this is the third part of a trilogy, or even fourth if you count the Avengers (which was basically an Iron Man movie “with friends”), the characters should be rather established in the viewers’ minds and little explanation should be needed.
1.       Characters - So little time was spent on character development altogether in this film that, in many ways, they felt two dimensional.
a.       I didn’t so much care for the so-called love story, as in the handful of scenes they were together in, she was usually bitching at him. And, considering how many times her life was at risk BECAUSE of Stark’s foolishness, I’m surprised she’s still with him at all, let alone anywhere within a 5 meter radius.
b.      I didn’t believe in the hate that Tony Stark suddenly had for the Mandarin just because his friend got hurt. He got rather personal rather quickly and it really had nothing to do with him in the first place.
                                                               i.      On a side note - threatening a serious terrorist, telling him your address and then getting into a fight with your girlfriend and not noticing the attack is rather pathetic. If I threatened the Mandarin I would have been sitting in my Ironman armor on the couch and told everyone I cared about to get away from me. And who’s stupid enough to go to the house anyway knowing the terrorist is going to go after they guy? 
c.       Apparently, Tony Stark was having some sort of dilemma about being Ironman and clearly going through some sort of post-traumatic stress but the film tried to avoid this topic throughout. And what was with all those anxiety attacks anyways? It really led to nowhere. I think they were just trying too hard to connect the Avengers with Iron Man 3. All this ultimately lead to the nonsensical ending where he destroys his life’s work. The fact that his life’s work just saved his life and that of the woman he loves doesn’t seem to cross his mind. Not to mention saving the president. Notwithstanding the fact that there may be other threats in the future. SO maybe keeping some reserve suits might be a good idea. Also, the fact that I thought the suits on display WERE the RESERVES, and the fact that he DID have a platoon of reserves in his bat cave, ahem, Ironman cave, makes me suspect that he didn’t actually blow up all his suits. “Operation clean slate?” you’re Tony Stark, and clean slate has the same amount of syllables as “bullshit”. Coincidence? I think not.

2.       Movie Appeal –
a.        It felt rather forced that they were clearly appealing to a younger audience by pitching a preteen boy as Iron Man’s helper. I haven’t seen such a presence of a child in a huge film since Star Wars Episode I, where the character was and still is rather annoying. Even the kids from Jurassic park weren’t played up this bad.  
b.      This film also suffered from the some of the same bad ideas as Spiderman 3. Throughout both films, the main character was very rarely seen in his superhero outfit just so that the producers could show the actor’s face on screen as much as possible. As a result, he kept getting into and out of different armours and forgetting to protect his face, especially when shrapnel was casually flying around him like at the end of the film. He would have been in a lot better shape had he kept his armor on.    
c.       Why was this film in 3D? The movie was upconverted, as the ending credits informed me, and for the most part the 3D was unnecessary. There was so much they could have done with the 3D in this film but it wasn’t really used. The only time the 3D really appealed to me was when we looked inside the brain, or when Tony went all CSI with the projectors in his workplace. When you’re watching 3D, people must feel part of the movie, having particles fly towards them and all that. This is further proof that 3D movies are becoming overrated, and a waste of money.

3.       Plot
a.       What was the villain’s motivation? 13 years after being stood up by Tony Stark he wanted revenge? Sure, he had some unclear plot about destroying the president but why did he hate Tony? Tony wasn’t in his way. The villain came to him.
b.      You would think that the Reactor in Stark’s chest would power the Iron Man suit as much as he needed. Why were his suits suddenly running out of power in this film? You would think, as I do with my phone everyday, that his main concern would be running out of power. Rather than having 42 suits, I would make a solar-powered cover for my armor or a remote battery to access somewhere or even engineer a better reserve power system so I wouldn’t fall out of the sky spontaneously.
c.       What terrorist organisation updates an enemy’s suit and makes sure to give him access to their secret files? How did Rhodes not notice them? And how did Tony find them so quickly. Were they in a folder called “Secret files do not read this is our plot”?
d.      Was Maya the Botanist good? Bad? She seemed good, then bad, then sort of good again. Then she died. Why did Killian shoot her? Doesn’t he need an expert on his super solder serum? I think she was misunderstood.  And the fact that she just changed her mind and threatened to blow herself up, leading to a one-shot-diva-death was really anticlimactic.
e.      Did Killian secretly love Pepper Potts? At the beginning of the movie, there WAS a hint that Pepper might even be INTO him. It looked like he was hitting on her before he tied her up. Why did he inject her with the same super serum as he had? Did he want her to be his Bridezilla or did he want to blow her up? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just shoot her? And if he really was as smart as we think he was, how did he not realize that injecting the serum into Pepper would make her more of a threat, which ultimately  led to his death of course?
f.        Between Tony leaving after his house is destroyed and him crashing somewhere in the snow, I got bored until he was Ironman again. I came to see an Ironman movie and most of the movie was Tony Stark at times using guns rather than one of his 42 suits. Why did he have to wear specifically the Mach 42? Could he not have installed a remote access login to another suit? To add to that, when did Tony become and MIF agent performing “Mission Impossible/Inspector Gadget” stuff - infiltrating a highly secured mansion and taking out 4-5 (6?) well armed guards?
g.       Don’t you think that Iron Patriot would be coded so only Rhodes can use it? I think he said something about that in Iron Man 2. So how did the random henchman get access to the armour? Isn’t that a major security flaw? And what was with the “Extremis guy grabs your arm and suit malfunctions”? OK, Extremis guys heat up. But if the suit can survive an explosion, it should be able to withstand some localized heat for more than 10 seconds?
4.       End credits
a.       The Final scene after the credits did not tease me with the new films to come or enlighten me with something I didn’t know. I just got more bromance between Tony and Bruce Banner, which I didn’t need, like or want that in any way.
So as a film goer, I generally thought the plot was limited and sort of boring. Robert Downey Jr. was entertaining enough to keep my interest but between the kid, the fan boy reporter, and the empty love story, I didn’t really care much. The action was cool at times.  

The main issue with the film is how they named things. Many of the below issues could have been avoided had given things their proper name instead of calling them something else, which basically screws up the possibility for really cool future stories.
1.       Extremis - Extremis is a rather new concept from 2005 and in no way a time-honored story of Ironman. Rather than talking about what it is – which I will save for part 3 – I will tell you what it’s not. It doesn’t make people explode or turn them into energy weapons. If anything, the Extremis concept from the movie is more like the first story arc of Matt Fraction’s run in 2008 where, in “The Five Nightmares”, Ezekiel Stane, the son of Obadiah, uses a form of Tony’s Iron Man armor to make a weapon. In this story, you had people exploding because their bodies were super charged and stuff. The bottom line is that now you can’t do Extremis properly because you already used the name in this movie. Of course, you could still use the concept, but then you would have to give it a different name, which just makes everything rather confusing.
2.       The Mandarin - why would you make the Mandarin an actor? He is Tony Stark’s main rival in the comic books, like Joker is to Batman. People have been excited for Mandarin since Iron Man 1 and now you basically ruined the character making it impossible to approach him in the future. And for what? What did this Mandarin character bring to the film? A new character would have done the trick.
3.       Iron Patriot – Again, War Machine never gets a paint job to become Iron Patriot. Iron Patriot is an evil Iron Man, per se, and by using him in this film so wrongly you removed the possibility of using him in the future. And again, why? What was wrong with War Machine?
4.       Hulk Buster Armour – You had it in the movie for 45sec when you could have had it fighting the Hulk!!! And then you destroyed it? Why?? This could have been a tantalizing glimpse of something that will be used in future Avengers movies, but now he would have to rebuild it again, once again making things unnecessarily complicated.
5.       Using all the Armours and then destroying them. Between last year’s Avengers and this year, Tony built 35 new Armours. That’s like 3 a month! This scene would have been fantastic at the end of Avengers 2 or something like that. Here you had an army of Iron Men fighting an “army” of 7 thugs with movie Extremis.
6.       AIM is not a rival to Stark Industries and is not correctly portrayed in the film. What we saw in this film looked more like HAMMER industries, which is a rival to Stark Industries. AIM is another of those concepts that could have been used for future films, and maybe also tied in with Avengers.
7.       Aldrich Killian is not a big business man and the head of AIM but a scientist who helped to develop Extremis (the original version, not the movie one).
Overall, I’m not sure what they were trying to do here. Name drop elements from the Marvel U to please geeks? OK, but then quote them properly or geeks will not be happy! It feels like they had the Cliff Notes to all the Iron Man comics that were accidentally shredded and put back together wrong, or that some uninterested exec picked out a couple of words and told the writers to put them in the film without actually explaining what they were about.

The reason why I called this less constructive is because saying what I wanted in the movie could range from small things that make sense to having Batman appear in it; because we all know everything becomes better if it has Batman in it.
1.       Extremis – First of all Extremis in the comic was put into TONY not an army of other guys. Extremis affected Tony Stark mentally, allowing him to process information at light speed, on a subconscious level, to help him better cope with the direct technological link he now possessed to his armor. It is because of this that he could directly control his armour with his mind and thus break it up into parts. It seems that at first they were trying to do Extremis properly in the script phase and it got changed to this mess. Prior to this it was, I think, always a suit that he had to put on manually. They used this plotline but avoided his mental upgrade that he got with the Extremis – connecting him to all the technology around him.
2.       Mandarin – The Mandarin had 10 super rings that give him magical powers. What makes him compelling is that he is not technological and, as such, you can always upgrade Iron Man and have the Mandarin be a threat. Magic vs. Technology. Maybe that had no place in this film but then they shouldn’t have used the Mandarin.
3.       AIM is is an organization of brilliant scientists and their hirelings dedicated to the acquisition of power and the overthrow of all government by technological means. It is connected to Hydra, which would have allowed the filmmakers to connect the concept with the wider Marvel U, maybe setting something up for future Avengers films (especially since it created the Cosmic Cube) It is eventually led by a M.O.D.O.K. (Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing),an artificially mutated human being with an enormous head and a stunted body possessing superhuman intelligence and the ability to generate mental energy bolts and force fields that AIM originally created. It’s a terrorist organisation!
4.       The final scene in the movie after the credits should have had something to do with Thor, as his movie comes out in November. 

In the end, what upsets me is the same thing that upset me with Spider-man 3. They watched themselves make it with the guys who came up with this stuff in the first place and were released it with pride. Yes it will make a lot of money but in time you may get a confession, like the one Sam Raimi made about Spider-man 3, that they could have done better. And they could have. That’s the saddest thing. It’s the ruined potential and the cramming of too much into a short amount of time - badly. 

I’m not too keen with what Disney has done with the Marvel comics (Marvel Now). This is the first movie, I think, where Disney had its control of the pie and I’m not too keen on it either. 

All this makes me very worried about the future of StarWars. 

Thanks for reading and Thank you to my friend Suthai for commenting on and adding to this rant!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ukraine in the EU?

Original article from August 22nd 2011, updated on February 26th 2013

This is a response to an article from New Europe ( about Ukraine entering the EU. It is in the process of signing an Association Agreement which has historically led countries to membership in the union. 

I just finished my thesis on the European Union’s Enlargement history and strategy. I'm fascinated to see how quickly the Ukraine’s development progresses. I hope there are no setbacks. If all goes smoothly, the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine that is currently being drafted will be signed in December 2011, and enter into force one year later in December 2012. Many things ride on the next general election in fall 2012. The next elected government needs to continue to promote EU cooperation. Most likely the presidential elections in March 2015 will be about application for EU membership. The EU has three years and seven months to show the Ukrainian people that membership will be a good thing. Thus, I think the EU should scale down its 'basket cases' in the Balkans, like Albania and Bosnia for the time being and focus on a country that is showing interest and the political will for change and accession.

A successful bid in the parliamentary and presidential elections will most likely lead to an application of membership in mid-2015. By the end of 2016, Ukraine should become an official candidate. At the latest, negotiations would start by the end of 2018 but this may be sooner, perhaps mid-2018. Negotiations can take four to five years and proper accession procedures another two. Thus, the date of 2025 that's been thrown around may be accurate.

Update!!: Due to setbacks made in 2011-2012 in relation to elections and the Tymoshenko events the agreement has yet to be signed and is due to be signed in November 2013. Again it is likely that it will take a year to enter into force and thus the presidential elections in March 2015 will be about continued promotion of EU cooperation. It seems then likely that only in 2020 will talks of EU membership application be on the table for the Ukrainians. The chain of events are then pretty standard. In mid 2021 they become an official candidate and depending on the Association Agreement and what reforms are necessary it may take another 8-10 years to become members. A revised estimate is now 2030. Depending on the enthusiasm of the 2015 president, it could be sooner. 

If the proper judicial reforms are met before the signing in 2013, then perhaps the 2015 elections may be a little more fair and less corrupt.  

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