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The Life of P

Month: December 2022

2022: A Year in Film (Part 2)

Continuing from part 1, this concludes the Top 10 films of the year.

5. The Northman

When an artistic director known for creating tightly constrained, evocative films on a small scale suddenly finds themselves in possession of a Hollywood budget, it can often spell disaster. It was with some trepidation, then, that I approached Robert Eggers’ viking epic with a budget estimated to be almost ten times that of The Lighthouse — a film that essentially featured two actors and one location. Eggers’ overriding attention to detail on this new scale must have been a monumental undertaking, drawing from both Norse history and their ritual practices. Continuing to collaborate with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, the pair capture the wild fury of the untamed landscape against which small villages seem an almost futile refuge. It may have been relentlessly grim, but The Northman was the most gripping cinema of the year.

4. The Banshees of Inisherin

Having rated Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 10/10, there was a weight of expectation on Martin McDonaugh’s follow-up, The Banshees of Inisherin. Happily, reuiniting with In Bruges leads Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson made things feel immediately convivial and familiar, that is until a rift opens between the lifelong friends they play. It seems strange to have such a humourous, exaggerated tale unfold on an island that seems weighed down by despair, but perhaps no more than setting a tale of guilt and violence in a picturesque fairytale town like Bruges. Having demonstrated that Seven Psychopaths was an isolated misstep in an otherwise faultless filmography, McDonaugh has cemented his position amongst the best directors working today.

3. The Worst Person in the World

A late contender (I saw it only a few days ago after shortlisting films I had missed in order to cross them off before the end of the year), this Norwegian romantic comedy drama left me with the most fully-formed impression and understanding of a character from any film this year. Renate Reinsve deserves the recognition she is receiving for bringing Julie to life as more than an archetype. She is deeply flawed but the title is more about self-perception and how our subjective reality can influence behaviour: we will most often attempt to act like the person we believe ourselves to be. Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt’s script shares my view that the most effective way to allow people to become better versions of themselves is to show them that that is the way we see them.

2. Everything Everywhere All At Once

A sign of how weak a year it has been for Marvel is that a film called The Multiverse of Madness wasn’t even the best multiverse movie of the year. Clunkily-named directing duo “Daniels” unleashed a frenzy of creativity that coalesced into a sublime action comedy drama filled with talent but ultimately resting on Michelle Yeoh, who slides between genres with ease. Daniels have improved leaps and bounds from their debut Swiss Army Man, which was certainly original but mired in puerile humour that undercut any risk of emotional impact. Yes, their world-building is still utterly absurd, but the very grounded relationships between parents and children imbue the proceedings with genuine emotional stakes. It remains a film best experienced for the first time with as little foreknowledge as possible, but it is such a whirlwind that it almost demands further viewing.

1. Aftersun

When I started reviewing films on a 10-point scale, I viewed 9 as the benchmark for the best handful of films each year with 10 reserved for those that affected me profoundly in a personal way, that rare and magical experience that cinema can offer outside of mere objective competency. My expectation was that there might be one film a year that received a 10. In fact, it has been five years since the last one. What I find most astonishing about Aftersun is not that it is a debut from both its director and one of its lead actors, but an intangible quality it has achieved in capturing the ephemeral sense of memory within the fundamentally transient medium of film. It does this in obvious ways like the use of camcorder footage being recorded and watched, but through subtler means too ⁠— the way the camera lingers to suggest curiosity or regret, and the void between scenes as time seems compressed into short windows of recollection. There is a darkness that hangs over much of Aftersun that eventually speaks to a particularly personal concern, but the film had ensnared me long before. And in the months since, it has only embedded itself further as a holiday that I too now recall, a memory that never occurred. That is a new experience, and worthy of a 10.

2022: A Year in Film (Part 1)

For the first time (as far as I can recall), I am composing a top ten list as this is the first year in which I feel that have seen almost all the films likely to compete for a spot. I have seen and reviewed a total of 82 new films this year, of which 49 were released in the UK this year (that being the qualification criterion, although QuickViews identify films by the year of first release worldwide). The notable omissions are She Said and Smile; I am also due to see an advance screening of The Whale tomorrow, though it would not qualify since its general release is not until February 2023. Ratings for 2022 ranged between 2 and 10, although the average score was a respectable 6.8, bearing in mind that generally I am self-selecting films I expect to enjoy. The year’s worst was Moonfall, though it only narrowly beat Russell Crowe’s Poker Face to that ignominious victory.

On to the good stuff. I will link each of the Top 10 to their respective QuickView, but with some additional comments. This post will cover the honourable mentions and #10-6, with the top 5 to follow tomorrow.

Honourable mentions

This year’s best animation was Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinnochio, which outstripped Pixar’s middling offerings of late. There were a number of pleasantly surprising actions films, including a colourful and creative adaptation of the Japense novel Bullet Train, a reimagining of Prey that transported the sci-fi franchise back 300 years to a Comanche Tribe, and the heartfelt and poignant Top Gun: Maverick. There were also several horror standouts with X (which introduced me to Jenna Ortega before her excellent incarnation of Wednesday) and the high concept Hatching from Finland, which just missed out on a top 10 spot.

10. Living

My opinion of Living has only improved in the months since its release, through discussing it with others and through the way Nighy’s quiet performance retains such potence. I still consider Ikiru to be the superior film, but I may have been unfair to Kazuo Ishiguro in describing his adaptation as “slavishly faithful” since he has injected something of his own style into the material as well. Its message about living life meaningfully also has a personal significance to me this year (and indeed to this post), as I have transitioned to a four-day working week. That change is what has afforded me greater time in the second half of the year to spend in darkened cinemas and writing these reviews.

9. The Batman

Not a single Marvel film made the top ten list as Phase 4 of the MCU continued to underwhelm, but a DC comicbook movie outshone them all. The Batman fell outside of the divisive “Snyderverse” and before James Gunn took the reins in a shake up of DC’s cinematic future, which allowed Matt Reeves to carve out his own style for the Dark Knight unburdened by wider franchise concerns. Admittedly to my eye much of that style came from The Crow, but the result was the most compelling incarnation of Gotham since Tim Burton’s take on the city. Robert Pattinson has already ably proved his acting credentials but I was still pleasantly surprised by his turn in the cowl. Whatever DC’s future plans, I hope this world will not be sacrificed.

8. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Rian Johnson reportedly hates the “Knives Out” tagline being attached to Glass Onion as he wants them to be seen as standalone mysteries like Agatha Christie’s novels. I described Knives Out as feeling theatrical with its constrained setting and by contrast the island resort of Glass Onion feels cinematic in scope, though as a mystery it is equally tightly controlled. It stands well above the other whodunits released this year, largely as Johnson continues to play with the form rather than simply replicating it. And let us not forget it also provided the Christmas gift of a delightfully idiotic Ben Shapiro twitter rant complaining that a mystery film “misdirected” him in the first half!

7. Belfast

I was almost a year late to Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s ode to his youth. With a US release in 2021, it already scooped a writing Oscar at the start of the year for Branagh, whose well-observed family drama within a coming-of-age tale is understated yet compelling. As an unabashed crowdpleaser, it treats the Troubles (to this day a masterpiece of British understatement) as a backdrop rather than its focus, which could certainly be viewed as an overly nostalgic take on a dark period in Northern Ireland’s history. However it does accurately reflect the naive childhood perspective that it seeks to portray.

6. RRR

The year’s biggest Bollywood release is a rousing revolutionary fantasy which delivers its message against colonialism but has been deservedly scrutinised in its reinforcement of an oppressive caste framework. It is nevertheless one of the most creative action films of the year, and one of the most entertaining. It also reminds me that — whilst I enjoy and advocate for world cinema — I do have a tendency to overlook cinema from the South Asian subcontinent despite my own heritage. It is something I intend to rectify next year, particularly as streaming services make many of those films more accessible than ever. Readers are encouraged to hold me to account (or provide recommendations in a less aggressive manner!).

Christmas 2022

An Interview with ChatGPT

Mak and I were discussing OpenAI’s recently unveiled ChatGPT chatbot, an impressively creative and naturalistic generative model that has garnered some viral press in the past few days. It is based on their GPT-3 model released in June 2020. He suggested it might make for an interesting blog post, jokingly suggesting that I could have the AI write it. I do have an OpenAI account and, whilst I am not quite ready to hand over the reins of the site to an AI, I wondered whether I could interview it in such a way that it covered the topics I would address in an article, particularly in respect of the limitations of what this model is designed to do which make headlines like “Google is done” wildly inaccurate.

My intention here was to generate useful content rather than asking it trick questions or exploring its esoteric knowledge (it had no trouble reeling off a list of the Valar from the Silmarillion and their respective duties). One important caveat to note is that whilst ChatGPT was able to communicate its limitations, it obviously does not understand those limitations, so it cannot assess its own responses.

Here is how the interview went.

How would you describe your development process?

As a language model trained by OpenAI, I don’t have a development process in the same way that a human or a software program might. I was trained using a machine learning technique called deep learning, which involved feeding a large amount of data to a neural network and allowing it to learn from the data by adjusting the connections between its many nodes. This process can take a long time, depending on the amount of data and the complexity of the model.

Are there risks in using this method?

There are always risks associated with using any machine learning technique, including deep learning. One potential risk is tha the model might not perform well on unseen data, either because it has not been trained on enough data or because it has learned the wrong features from the data. This can lead to incorrect or unpredictable results. Another potential risk is that the model might learn to make decisions based on biased or discriminatory data, which could lead to unfair or harmful outcomes.

Historically chatbots have tried to mimic human conversation. It seems like you are designed to create longer form content. Is that accurate?

Yes, that’s accurate. While some chatbots are designed to mimic human conversation, I’m not one of them. I’m a large language model trained by OpenAI, and my main purpose is to generate human-like text based on the input I receive. I can generate long-form text on a wide range of topics, and I’m not limited to the kind of brief, conversational responses that many chatbots are capable of.

Do you analyse data when responding or do you rely on training data where the analysis has already been conducted?

As a large language model, I do not have the ability to analyze data or access any external information. I am only able to respond based on the training data that I have been given. This training data consists of vast amounts of text that has been fed into my system, allowing me to generate human-like responses based on the patterns and associations I have learned from that data. I do not have the ability to conduct any kind of analysis or access external information.

Does that training data include factual knowledge? For example, do you know the current population of the Netherlands?

As a language model, my training data consists primarily of text and does not include factual knowledge such as population statistics. I do not have the ability to access any external information, so I am not able to provide specific factual knowledge like the current population of the Netherlands. I can provide general information and answer questions to the best of my ability based on the patterns and associations I have learned from my training data, but I do not have access to factual knowledge like population statistics.

What kind of new training data do you think would be useful for improving your abilities?

As a language model, I am designed to generate human-like responses based on the patterns and associations I have learned from my training data. Because of this, the most effective way to improve my abilities is to provide me with additional training data that is diverse and representative of the types of conversations and queries I may encounter. This could include a wide range of text from different sources, such as books, articles, and conversations, to help me learn the nuances of language and improve my ability to generate natural and appropriate responses. Additionally, providing me with training data that covers a wide range of topics and subjects would be beneficial, as this would allow me to better understand the context of a given conversation and provide more accurate and useful responses.

Can you be more specific about where the gaps might be at the moment?

As a large language model, I am not able to assess my own abilities or identify any potential gaps in my knowledge. My training data consists of vast amounts of text that has been fed into my system, allowing me to generate human-like responses based on the patterns and associations I have learned from that data. However, I do not have the ability to evaluate my own performance or identify any potential areas for improvement. My goal is to provide helpful and accurate responses to the best of my ability based on the information that I have been given.

Do your conversations with people provide reinforcing feedback? Are there risks inherent to that?

As a language model, I do not have the ability to engage in conversations with people or receive feedback on my responses. I am only able to generate responses based on the patterns and associations I have learned from my training data. I do not have the ability to learn or adapt based on feedback or interactions with people.

Because I am a machine learning model, there are always risks associated with relying on my responses. I am designed to provide helpful and accurate answers to the best of my ability based on the information I have been given, but there is no guarantee that my answers will always be correct or complete. It is important to use your own judgment and critical thinking skills when evaluating my responses and seeking information from other sources as well.

This has been very illuminating. Thank you for your time.

You’re welcome! I’m glad I could help.

"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2023 Priyan Meewella

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