Films in August 2020

I’m a little disappointed in myself for not actually making it back to the cinema this month. I did mean to, but the timings never quite worked and my plans to see Tenet fell into September. I didn’t even watch any new releases on netflix/amazon, so instead the below are all just re-watches or random catch ups. There’s an absolute classic at both the top AND bottom of the list, and I don’t think everyone would be happy with the bottom one, but I found it insufferable. The only other notable thing is that I accidentally watched two shark films and two Jason Statham films, you shouldn’t read too much into that.

Rebecca – A brilliant film that manages to create a creepy, uncomfortable, engaging mystery without ever laying it on too thick. The lead characters are beautifully crafted, even the one that never actually appears but guides the whole story. The sets are amazing and the way the different characters slot into them is managed so smoothly with just a few glances and movements. This film is all about what isn’t said and seen and it is pretty nearly perfect. 9 / 10

Moon – Proper old school science fiction – completely story and concept driven. I’m continually complaining about films being too long the editing on this was absolutely superb, the plot never feels rushed, but at the end you realise that not a second was wasted, no shot lasted longer than it had to and no lines were used that couldn’t be replaced with a perfect expression. Sam Rockwell is superb, although I felt Kevin Spacey’s voice was too recognisable for the computer and that dropped the illusion a bit. My favourite thing about the film though was the design of it all, from the lived in work spaces to the bleak lunar landscape, there was always something fascinating to look at that made perfect sense in the environment. A really wonderful film.9 / 10

El orfanato (The Orphanage) – I love a creepy horror film, and this is a great one. The build up of tension and creepiness is very well judged, well timed jumps give shots of adrenaline to the ongoing unsettled feelings. The ending is also very satisfying, revealing the truth at just the right moment and then playing out the fallout to leave the film properly finished off. A true classic. 8 / 10

Peanut Butter Falcon – A nice film. What with one thing and another this is the kind of film that I needed to watch at the moment. It’s sweet and funny, with just enough drama and sadness to it to give it body, but not so much that it brings down the overall feel good warmth. Yes it’s slow, but the scenery is beautiful to look at and the direction understated but effective. The trio of lead actors have wonderful chemistry and the whole film was just a nice way to spend some time. 8 / 10

Knives Out – I LOVE a good who-done-it, and this is a great one. It could easily have been written by Agatha Christie, but also lives easily in the present day with appropriate technology and social issues. The collection of characters are entertaining, extreme but not caricatures and funny but not ridiculous all expertly delivered by a great ensemble cast. The structure of the plot was very well done, the mystery itself really kept me guessing with different options, and the twists and turns kept things interesting and plenty of laughs along the way. When I saw it in the cinema I complained that the cinematography was too dark to fully luxuriate in the locations and sets, but on the smaller screen I didn’t have that problem at all, so it was even better. 8 / 10

The Meg – A wonderful stupid action film about a giant shark terrorizing some scientists and Jason Statham. I mean obviously Jason Statham isn’t really terrorized, because he’s Jason Statham, but the shark is ridiculously big and gives even The Stath some challenges. The film is gloriously dumb and completely aware of how ridiculous it is; everyone in the cast is playing it consistently and there’s no one trying to be too big, or play it too straight. It plays a little bit with some of the tropes of the genre, but it’s not pushing any boundaries making it a comfortable, fun, and fairly disposable watch. 8 / 10

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – I was a big fan of the television series growing up and could never quite understand why in the endless series of remakes, this classic had never made it to the big screen, but it was worth the wait as this is spot on. The key word is ‘entertaining’. The style is dialed up and the complexity is dialed down and the focus is on the great characters, snappy dialogue and fun banter. The introduction of Alicia Vikander to make the duo a trio is inspired. The period details are incredible with great costumes, locations and music, although the grainy film style and split screens were maybe a little overdone. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this, even on a third watch on a small screen. I’m a bit disappointed that it didn’t turn into an ongoing series, but maybe ‘one and done’ is safer. 8 / 10

Emma. – I am not a fan of Jane Austen et al. I keep trying the books, and different film and TV adaptions but for the most part I find them fairly insufferable, in fact the best rated one in my reviews is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This production of Emma is probably going to be the next highest rated. I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say I *liked* it, but I certainly found it tolerable, and at times even entertaining. I think the biggest success is that the eponymous lead character is presented as fairly annoying and ridiculous so I couldn’t really get cross about it. I don’t know how much is in the original and how much is the adapter and director, but the whole thing is all just on edge of parody, overly bright colours, over blown characters and big acting; and as it’s all coherent it works. The only slight frustration was that as per usual I didn’t buy into the main pairing and if anything that romance felt bodged in rather than an integral part of the story. 7 / 10

Hitch – I was torn on this film. On the one hand, Will Smith is perfect – charming without being smarmy, sweet without being pathetic and a big screen presence without being unrealistic. The supporting cast are all just as perfectly played and there wasn’t a single irritating character, a rarity in romantic comedies – even Kevin James wasn’t annoying! But I did spend most of the film trying to work out whether it was problematic. It felt like they were putting a label on issues in a humorous way, rather than being part of the problem, but I could never quite be certain. I’m not going to look up whether I should have been offended or not, because I rather enjoyed it so I don’t want to spoil that. 7 / 10

My Big Fat Greek Wedding – A good fun film that moves the inevitable “frumpy girl turns into surprise beauty” to the very start of the film and then just kinda gets on with it. There’s a lot of fun, but also a lot of love in the over-the-top family and although it’s a bit dated in places now, the central ideas are pretty timeless. 7 / 10

Minority Report – The film holds up pretty well 18 years after it was made, it still looks suitably futuristic and creative, even if some of the effects have dated a smidgen. The twists of the plot are well balanced to involve some thought but not to Nolan-esque complexity levels that make your brain hurt. 7 / 10

Venom – A film of thirds. The first third is dull. We’re introduced to Tom Hardy’s annoying journalist who screws up his life and then wallows, and Riz Ahmed’s ludicrously over the top villain. Just as I was mentally checking out of the film though, suddenly the film bursts into life with the arrival of Venom. Tom Hardy’s acting skills come to the fore, both in terms of physical performance and action sequences and also finding both the humour and horror in the situation. The plot got interesting, the effects were interesting to watch and the whole thing gained pace and fun. And then the third section turned into an action sequence that overdid the CGI, under did the character and left me zoning out a bit again. Overall the film was better than I expected, but it’s a shame it didn’t really play to the strengths. 6 / 10

True History of the Kelly Gang – Eighty percent of this film is really well put together and has great depth, but sadly it’s ruined by twenty percent of laziness. There were a lot of interesting characters, even if they were only small parts of this film, I got the sense there was a lot going on with each of them, no one was cleanly a hero or a villain. But unfortunately I completely lost track of what was going on when the story got to the actual Kelly Gang bit. Suddenly the subtlety was lost and it felt like Kelly turned from a well developed and complex character into an incoherent ‘legend’ that made no sense. On top of that, much of the action took place in the dark and made it impossible to follow. That section really spoiled the rest of an otherwise interesting film. 6 / 10

The Expendables – I don’t think this film quite knew what it wanted to be. On one hand there’s a lot of fun banter between characters, a slight world weariness of the action tropes that the characters find themselves in. But they didn’t quite completely commit to that, so most of the action sequences are played straight, just like you’d see in any action film with drawn out sequences and utterly improbable violence. The main plot was also dumb as anything and Stallone still seemed to want to write dramatic moments for him and an ill advised and weird romantic implication that they then bottled out of. So I would zone in for the banter and zone out for the rest of it, but naturally the climax of the film was an extended action sequence and I basically zoned out for the final third of the film. 6 / 10

Deadpool 2 – This is unfortunately two films mushed together and it doesn’t work. On the plus side, there’s the Deadpool bits. The hilariously inappropriate violence, language, crudeness, breaking of the 4th wall and in jokes are still there. So many elements of the film work so well together and still feel fresh and original, everything from the music choices to the brilliantly directed and choreographed action sequences that were genuinely interesting to watch for a change.
But you know there’s a ‘but’ coming, and it’s a big one. There’s just too much emotion at the forefront of the story. From the ‘unfortunate event’ and the theme of parenthood that runs through the film it just didn’t feel like Deadpool. There were a lot of scenes that I was waiting for the punch line and was left with just a pure emotional moment that didn’t feel at all in the right film. It wasn’t even done very well, it was utterly lacking in subtlety and the kind of story that we’ve seen play out hundreds of times before.
There were plenty of scenes and moments that were brilliant, but there were a number of places that I was bored and the film dragged and overall I came away feeling rather disappointed. 6 / 10

A Canterbury Tale – I thought this was going to be a proper version of The Canterbury Tale, so at least even if it were rubbish I could count it as educational. I guess the “A” in the title should have clued me in. The problem was that nothing really happened for most of the film. Towards the end there’s some more drama, but by then it just felt a bit over the top. The film is I guess a picturesque and diverting view of village life in England during the second world war, although the positive glow and charming locals come across a little more propaganda than realistic presentation. It’s not terrible to watch with a cup of tea and a crossword, but I’ll be honest that I didn’t really see the point of it. 6 / 10

Puzzle – I went in expecting a nice, low impact little film, the sort of thing that can be watched on an easy Saturday afternoon while doing a jigsaw puzzle. This isn’t quite that film. It’s not what I’d call massively hard hitting, but it is toward that end of the spectrum, with some quite deep things to say about loneliness, expectations and finding a voice. Unfortunately I’m not sure that the deeper elements really landed, there were a couple of long speeches that felt contrived, and some of the characters weren’t as well rounded as they needed to be. That’s a shame because other bits were very well observed and delivered; it’s just a shame all the pieces didn’t quite seem to come from the same puzzle.6 / 10

Remains of the Day – If this film went any slower it would actually move backwards. In fact thanks to the bulk of the story being told in flashback, I guess it does actually go backwards. I loved the book but don’t think it translated very well to film, there isn’t much going on. The cast do a very good job getting inside the characters heads, but I couldn’t help but compare the film to Gosford Park, and it doesn’t come up very well. 5 / 10

Deep Blue Sea – Wow, what a disaster. It’s like they took half of a great film – a solid disaster movie set up, expensive sets and animatronics, Samuel L. Jackson, and LL Cool J, and then ran out of money and put two lead actors in who lacked charisma, chemistry and any real acting talent. Charitably the script didn’t give them a huge amount to go on, but the same people were writing for Jackson and Cool J and they did absolutely fine. Maybe there was different direction given and the two leads were told to play it straight, when no one really wants that in a film about super smart sharks. It passes the time, and it’s worth watching for the good bits, but it’s a missed opportunity. 5 / 10

2001: A Space Odyssey – I’m amazed to find that there is no review of 2001 on my site already, meaning I haven’t watched it since at least 2002 when I started compulsively reviewing everything. I decided that was too big a gap to have so picked up a dvd and settled in.
Wow, that was BORING.What seems to have happened is that Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick have taken Clarke’s original short story and then turned it into a 2.5 hour saga to show off some special effects and forgotten to add any additional plot. In fact they probably removed some of the plot from the short story in order to make it deliberately more weird and cryptic. The special effects are definitely impressive, even over FIFTY years later but they’re then so dragged out that I got utterly bored. Accompanying some those sequences are some beautiful music choices, but there are also some horrendous shrieking bits that had me turning the volume down to almost nothing. The plot and characters are so minimal that they’re almost not worth mentioning. The whole film could probably be boiled down to 45 minutes, not only not losing anything of substance, but actually adding to the overall impact. 4 / 10

Films in July 2020

New Releases – only one this month, and it wasn’t very good. I did try to watch How to Build a Girl but I lasted just 10 minutes before the cringiness and the accent drove me away (I checked with someone who lives near Wolverhampton and they agreed the accent was poor).

The Old Guard
A small band of immortals come together to make the world a better place. Good concept, unremarkable execution. There’s some nice ideas about what it means to be 100’s of years old, and how you approach combat (and life) if you can’t die. The fight scenes are impressive and really play with the idea that if you’ve been fighting side by side with the same people for hundreds of years your team work is on a different level. But it didn’t quite come together, I think maybe if it had been a more starry cast, a more polished script, a big screen experience, it might have been a really interesting addition to the super hero genre… but it just felt a bit too unremarkable. Fine, but nothing more.
Ranking: 6 / 10

Older films / Rewatches in ranked order
Prevenge
This is so good! I had so many emotions while watching it. Alice Lowe wrote, directed and starred in it and she excels in all three aspects. The script is a with a beautifully judged script mixing tones classic horror film types with incredible creepiness, genuine gore and plenty of psychological unpleasantness. But there’s also some really funny observational comedy blending seamlessly with the other aspects. The directing is just interesting enough to make it interesting but not intrusive (the scene in the tunnel for example). But it’s the acting that most impressed me, playing a character that’s both complex and simple, committed and uncertain, playing roles but still herself. And all that packed into just 88 minutes. This film is an absolute masterpiece.
Ranking: 9 / 10

Little Women
Little Women is probably my favourite book of all time, I’ve read it more times than I can count and know the characters, storyline, dialogue and even the descriptions incredibly well. It feels like there’s an adaption of it for pretty much every generation of actors and I can’t actually remember any of them disappointing.
Greta Gerwig clearly knows and loves the book just as well as I do and it shows in every single frame of this movie. The book is beautifully, faithfully and lovingly retold, finding aspects that could be highlighted and emphasised to connect to themes of feminism and freedom that feel modern, but are in fact universal. The only significant change from the book is to shake the linear narrative up and use overlapping timelines and flashbacks. The first time I watched, it didn’t work for me as I felt it spoilered some of the storylines, big moments of character development were lost because we already knew how things would turn out. My companion didn’t like it either, he wasn’t familiar with the story and lost track of characters and ‘when’ we were. But on the second watch through (and with the help of some DVD extras) I understand what Gerwig was doing, focusing on the women that the characters would become, rather than getting bogged down in the childhood events that shaped them.
This film brought me an overwhelming sense of joy – at the quality of Gerwig’s writing, the talented performances of everyone in the cast, the beautiful design of the period setting and the stunning cinematography. The only word of warning is that, while watching in the privacy of my own home I cried so hard I gave myself a headache.
Ranking: 9 / 10

Behind the Candelabra
This film immediately grabs you, filling the screen with sequins and the other-worldly behavior in Las Vegas. The film was engrossing from the very first few moments, the directions the characters and their relationships went was absolutely fascinating. The most phenomenal thing however were the performances. I’ve never really rated Michael Douglas that highly, but he was incredible in this role. The highest praise I can give him is that I forgot who the actor was. I’ve been a fan of Matt Damon for longer, so never quite lost sight of the actor behind the action roles, but it was also a transformative performance. The actors and writers gave depth and empathy to the complex relationship, never taking the easy route of making one party the ‘bad guy’. If there’s one criticism of the film it would be that it didn’t always seem to know what it was – comedy or drama, biopic or romance. But then that’s what life is, a muddle of everything thrown together. It may make the film less satisfying in the end, but it certainly makes it interesting.
Ranking: 8 / 10

The AristoCats
I doubt this Disney film is top of anyone’s favourites, but The AristoCats is one I come back to every now and then since my childhood – never outstanding, but consistently watchable. The story and characters are charming, the songs relatively few but still fun and the moralistic elements are fairly discrete. As an adult though two things stand out, firstly the beautiful style of the artwork which is slightly more hand-drawn feeling then certainly recent Disney films, the animation of the cats is stunning – carefully observed and then delivered with an absolute minimum of pencil lines. The other thing was the amount that was re-used from other films of the era – voices, music snippets, even whole animation sections from films like Jungle Book and Robin Hood. I don’t blame them for the efficiencies, and it doesn’t diminish the film, but it does make it slightly disconcerting in places.
Ranking: 7 / 10

Trolls
I went into this film pretty cynical, I mean the Trolls were annoying enough as toys the first time round, turning them into a film of peppy singing creatures… how could that possibly work. The main way it worked was by putting a character in that basically had exactly the same attitude as I did and having him mercilessly negate all the perkiness. And by doing that, completely selling the cheerfulness. On top of that, the voice acting was spot on and the design and style of it absolutely gorgeous. It was impossible to not be charmed by it, and believe me I tried.
Ranking: 7 / 10

Brave
Here’s the review if this film had been made by anyone but Pixar: Brave is a very solid little animation. While the over-exaggerated Scottishness gets a bit grating at times, the voice acting just about carries it off. The story is a little clumsy at times, but gets the job done and bounces along with enthusiasm. The ‘princess’ is a suitably modern offering, rebelling against tradition and handsome princes and wanting to make her own way in the world. The animation itself is absolutely gorgeous.
BUT because the film is a Pixar production, I found myself disappointed. I was asked on Twitter whether I cried, and had to say that I really didn’t. I rather expect a Pixar film to have me in embarrassing floods of tears, but this one just didn’t have that level of connection for some reason. It’s not that the film was bad at all, it just wasn’t the sort of ‘special’ that I’ve come to expect from Pixar.
Ranking: 7 / 10

Ocean’s Eight
I’m a huge fan of the Clooney/Pitt/Damon et al Ocean’s 11, even if 12 and 13 did then get progressively sillier, so I was quite looking forward to a female installment and the cast was more than enough to inspire enthusiasm. I sadly found myself a little underwhelmed. The first half was a little slow (someone a few rows back in the cinema was snoring!) and then the heist itself was a little fast, then slow again for the post-heist follow ups, and then a final twist that came too far out of nowhere. The comedy wasn’t quite as easy as Ocean’s 11, and one of the early reveals about the connection to the previous films (staying vague for spoilers) actually struck quite a negative blow that really felt like the wrong tone to set. The plot was fairly precarious (I was spotting holes/needless complexity as it went) and overall neither characters nor movie as a whole felt quite as smooth and slick as they needed to be. Oh and who’s idea was Helena Bonham Carter’s terrible accent? Was that supposed to be an homage to Don Cheadle’s terrible cockney? Solidly entertaining, but the cast can do a lot better and I was wanting more.
Ranking: 7 / 10

O Brother, Where Art Thou
I rather odd film, but I think I liked it, it’s one of those films that I can’t really be sure. The combination of offbeat ramblings and oddly formal dialogue matches pretty well for a modern(ish) retelling of The Odyssey with the mixture of hard reality and whimsical fantasy. It occasionally gets a bit bogged down, the pacing is maybe a little off, and there are rather too many bit part characters that are a bit hard to track, but overall it’s pretty entertaining, and the soundtrack is worth the price of admission (free on Netflix) alone.
Ranking: 6 / 10

Silver Linings Playbook
This film absolutely monstered the awards nominations in 2013, it was nominated for all 4 acting categories, as well as best film, directing and adapted screenplay at the Oscars, but in the end the awards themselves were a bit thin on the ground. And that’s I think because the film isn’t actually very good. It never seemed to know whether it wanted to be a hard hitting drama on mental illness, an improbable but sweet romance, or a comedic look at how crazy absolutely everyone is regardless of whether they have a diagnosis or not. Although the actors were all doing their very best with the material, I just don’t think they were able to rise above the inconsistencies. The final act did sort of suck me back in, finally seeming to settle into a more standard and quite lovely romantic comedy. Unfortunately that doesn’t really balance out the first two thirds of the film where I could have been very tempted to switch off altogether.
Ranking: 6 / 10

Straight Story
The most accessible David Lynch film, although that’s not a particularly hard challenge to win, and while he’s taken out a lot of the weird that puts me off his films, I think he forgot to really replace it with anything. I think we were supposed to be hypnotised by the scenery, or the music, or the grizzlyness of the main character, but to be honest none of those held my attention at all. There are some nice scenes as the main character encounters a few people on his travels, but those interesting points were surrounded by endless boring scenery, and irritating music.
Ranking: 5 / 10

Battle Beyond the Stars
There’s a lot going on here. It’s obviously The Magnificent Seven (or Seven Samurai) in Space, but it feels a little like each character was from a slightly different version of the film and the actors, makeup, costumes and script went with each variation. There were people playing it straight, people playing it for laughs, a character that seemed like she came straight out of Barbarella and people playing it as if they were had a tax bill due and this was the best their agent could find. Some of those elements worked well in isolation, and some of them even worked together in a contrasting way, but as a whole it was a bit of an incoherent mess.
Ranking: 5 / 10

Roadhouse
This starts off ok, I mean it’s cheesy as anything and so 80’s it hurts, but the idea is solid and Patrick Swayze is charmingly monosyllabic as the bouncer (sorry – ‘cooler’) who comes in to clean up a dive bar through professionalism and calm. But just as I was settling in, two terrible things happen. The first was Kelly Lynch who delivered a performance that was wooden even by trashy 80’s standards and infected Swayze with her lack of spark. The second problem was that the film decided it wanted to be a mindless action film instead with increasingly ridiculous fights and a complete break from all the rules that it had originally set itself. As a laughably stupid 80’s action film it was probably ok but I’d foolishly thought it was going to be more than that.
Ranking: 5 / 10

Radioactive
I’d been looking forward to this for three reasons – Marie Curie, Rosamund Pike, and that it’s based on a graphic novel and used the same graphic style. Of those three, only Marie Curie didn’t disappoint. She is a fascinating person, her scientific achievement alone is incredible, but the fact that she was a she makes her story worthy of telling. The relationship (personal and professional) with her husband, and her daughters brings the emotion to the story and is equally original. Unfortunately everything else about the film was a bit mediocre. Rosamund Pike is doing her best, but the script is so clunky that she comes over very hammy at times, and Sam Riley as Pierre Curie is just a bit bland. With the exception of one scene, I really didn’t see any attempt at any visual style at all and the opportunities to explain and showcase the science visually were completely missed. A wasted opportunity.
Ranking: 4 / 10

The Seven Year Itch
A film made famous by the scene where Marilyn Monroe stands on a grating and her dress blows up. One of the most iconic visuals in movie history and the full shot doesn’t even actually appear in the film, only close ups. Which pretty much sums up this film. It’s supposed to be a comedy and yet frankly isn’t funny at all. The wry voiceover and Monroe’s quirky performance are doing their best, but I struggled to find any humour in a man carefully deciding to cheat on his wife and a female character that’s simply there to wear tight clothes and act ditzy.
Ranking: 4 / 10

Film in June 2020

Dating Amber – A really solid entry into the growing mainstream genre of coming of age LGBTQ+ films. The film starts on the gentler end of the spectrum, with lots of charm, plenty of comedy and some entertainingly ridiculous supporting characters. But the balance gradually shifts as the film goes on and the reality of the uncertainty and desperation these young people experience becomes increasingly heartbreaking. There’s a lot going on in the film and it’s beautifully crafted and I think has the potential to be a real classic.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – About 50% of this film is perfectly pitched to match Eurovision’s sense of glorious awfulness. It has outrageously ridiculous spectacle combined with a sense of joy and connection that made my jaw drop and my mouth grin. But that’s only 50% of the film, and the other half is painful, trying too hard, awkward and uncomfortable. Even more unfortunately a lot of that is up front and I came quite close to giving up on the film before it reached the redemptive second half. The second half would get an 8/10, but the first half gets a 5/10.
I’d say a lot of the problem lies with Will Ferrell who I’ve never really warmed to, and is just continuing to ply the same old man-child shtick in a way that is really tedious for a man in his 50’s. Rachel McAdams has good comic skills, but didn’t seem to connect with Ferrell’s improvised style, and their age gap made the love story elements uncomfortable (particularly given Ferrell’s writing credit). I don’t know why they wasted so much time pre-Eurovision, and why they didn’t make the whole thing a jukebox musical (the big music number in the middle was wonderful and made me realise what the first half had been missing). It’s also a real shame that McAdams and the superb Dan Stevens are obviously not doing their own singing, and I’m not sure how the Icelandic will appreciate the cheesy accents.

Older Films
Monos – This is a Columbian film following a group of teenagers trained as soldiers and left to guard an American hostage on a remote mountaintop. The eight main characters are a group of little more than children left to their own devices, making up thei own rituals, bullying each other, having crushes and doing stupid things. But they’re dealing with responsibilities and events that are on a completely different level, heavily armed and under real life-and-death pressures. This film is extraordinary. I had heard many reviews saying that it was very special, but I still started watching it with a sense of duty rather than anticipation. It immediately grabbed me and held on to me throughout. On a technical level it is superb, the locations create a sense simultaneously of both space and claustrophobia. The young actors are incredible, blending child and soldier, innocence and brutality, victim and oppressor; they are heartbreaking and terrifying. I don’t know that any of my words can come close to describing this film and the impact of it, it’s something truly special.

Citizen Kane – Being frequently labelled the best film of all time is a blessing and a curse; I wouldn’t have watched it without that tag, but with it came some pretty high expectations. Unfortunately it was never going to be able to live up to those. Don’t get me wrong the film is great, but it doesn’t seem outstanding unless you continually remind yourself it was made in 1941 by a first time director. The film itself is enjoyable to watch, a well crafted biography that brings together all the elements you’d expect to find in someone’s life – love, drama, humour and angst. The direction is interesting, occasionally a bit too ‘different’ but some of it’s adventurous ideas work well. Whether it’s the best film of all time, I don’t know, but it is a great film.

American Beauty – This is a very delicate mixture in this film that maximizes appeal. It’s definitely a full on film with drama, grit and artyness to it that appeal to the critics and make it’s Oscar win understandable. But it’s also very enjoyable and accessible, with laughs and relatability. Everything is carefully judged and yet feels fairly effortless – writing, direction and acting switching between extreme and subtle and somehow all just working. It’s just a shame that the film will be forever tainted by the presence of Kevin Spacey – his performance is superb and it’s hard to imagine anyone as good at playing on the boundaries of everyman and arsehole. But his horrific behaviour now blights all his works and this one is particularly uncomfortable given the subject matter of the film.

Ophelia – I don’t know the story of Hamlet. In fact, I know so little about it that I didn’t even realise that this film WAS Hamlet until he turned up and I thought “that’s a weird name”. However this is Hamlet told from the point of view of Ophelia, and therefore gives a much stronger emphasis to the female characters. I can’t compare it to the original work, but I would say that I enjoyed watching this more than I enjoy most Shakespeare. The language still feels Shakespearean and I assume there are some sections that are lifted directly, but between the words and the actors I found it easy to understand what the characters meant and felt (which I often struggle with in Shakespeare). Daisy Ridley has a fascinating screen presence although it’s a shame that the male characters are a little one-dimensional, but that may just be a pointed dig at Shakespeare.

Demolition Man – Somehow I’ve never seen this film, and in the 25+ years since it was made I’d also never realised that it wasn’t a simple action film. The posters and descriptions are all moody grey and macho blah blah blah, and that’s where the film starts with Stallone and Snipes in full on violent cliche mode fighting and blowing things up before both being arrested and put in suspended animation as punishment (a clumsy setup). We jump to a hippy-like future where violence is completely irradiated and when Snipes is accidentally unfrozen and starts creating mayhem, the modern cops can’t even begin to handle him, so unfreeze Stallone. From there on the core of the film is really a buddy cop comedy pairing Stallone with Sandra Bullock and both of them having a lot of fun. Stallone cheerfully pokes fun at himself and the genre he’s used to, Sandra Bullock gives as good as she gets, and Snipes gets some great material as well. It’s pretty clumsy in places and falls back a little too often on tedious action sequences, but rather than being just another brainless action film, it’s trying to do something more interesting and I wish I’d seen it sooner.

Rampage – This film has Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson in it and there’s really very little else that needs to be said. If forced I would say that although the special effects are impressive, the plot is ridiculous and the supporting cast is mostly hamming it up (Naomi Harris being the notable exception). But it doesn’t matter, because The Rock is in it and he’s charming and hilarious and exciting to watch and so nothing else matters.

Hercules – Easily the best thing about this film is the songs, as soon as they start playing (actually as soon as I even think about them playing) I get a big smile on my face and want to sing along. The mixture of ancient Greek setting and the gospel music is absolutely genius. The rest of the film is solid enough with some good comedy from the familiar side-kick slots and a satisfyingly spunky female lead, but it’s the music that’s the real joy.

The Secret Life of Pets – From the studio that brought you Despicable Me… and it’s just not that good I’m afraid. It has some really great observational bits about pets, really capturing dogs and cats as animals while still anthropomorphising them for the story. The attitudes and actions are perfectly captured. Unfortunately the story just isn’t anything special. Actually, it was something special when it was done in Toy Story, but fundamentally the whole pitch of Secret Life of Pets is to retell Toy Story with pets not toys. It just wasn’t original enough to hold the attention. BUT the pet stuff did make me laugh the whole way through, so it’s still fun to watch.

Skyscraper – I had a Dwayne Johnson double bill and this was the much weaker film compared with Rampage, frankly because there was just insufficient Rock in it. I mean, there was plenty of Rock jumping and swinging and running and punching but there wasn’t enough real character and personality coming through. All the stunts and action sequences were very well done (if completely preposterous) and if I were watching in a cinema I probably would have been gripped, but at home on the sofa I just found myself a bit bored. The start of the film had some really good stuff, and it was wonderful to see Neve Campbell in a strong role that was far more than ‘just the wife’. But overall it just felt like there was a bit of a lack of personality.

The Addams Family – This is absolutely fine. There’s a lot of detail and care gone into making this a new version of the original series, with lots of direct lifts (as far as I can tell). The style is interesting, somehow managing to make it simultaneously gothic dark appear vibrant in the animation. But for all that, for some reason it just didn’t really charm me.

Interview with the Vampire – As a teenage girl in the 90’s it was almost obligatory to be completely obsessed with Anne Rice’s vampire novels, and yet I took great pride in not reading them and not watching the film. By the time I was no longer making a specific point by not watching/reading, every indication was that they weren’t very good so I didn’t bother catching up. Jump to 25 years later and I spotted Interview with the Vampire on Amazon and thought I’d give it a go. Wow, it’s bad. The story meanders about, missing opportunties to look at the different time periods in any depth beyond the opportunity to spend a lot of money on the sets and fashion. The biggest problem is that the casting is just plain bad. Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise are utterly wrong, and clearly bored by the whole thing, both are categorically out-acted by the startling 12 year old Kirsten Dunst. Cruise goes for manic incoherence while Pitt aims for deep melancholy and hits bored apathy. I mean the idea of broody vampires appeals to me no more today then it did as a teenager, it’s a crowded genre these days, but I think even at the time this wasn’t doing anything interesting. I guess it looks pretty, but that’s it.

Films in May 2020

A solid month of film watching, with 23 films watched through the power of netflix and amazon prime, but I am really missing going to the cinema. I’m gonna start with the review that would normally come last – the very worst film. But it’s so offensively awful that I wanted to put it at the top.

Sabrina (1995)
What a truly awful film. I know that this film was made 25 years ago, but even in 1995 I don’t think the crimes against feminism were considered appropriate. Look at the poster, that’s pretty indicative. Although the ages of the characters are never given, Julia Ormond was about 30, and Harrison Ford 53, that’s already a pretty uncomfortable age gap for a rom-com, but Sabrina is presented as much much younger. Initially she is more like a teenager with a crush, then magically after a year in Paris and a haircut she seems to have aged considerably. Ford’s character then deliberately seduces her to get her away from his younger brother (played by Greg Kinnear, only 2 years older than Ormond), who may have been a shameless womaniser, but at least seemed genuine in the moment. Harrison Ford can’t quite seem to work out whether he’s supposed to be playing evil (as the plot indicates) or charming (as the tone and dialogue indicate), so he settles for an utterly wooden middle ground of nothingness. Of all the female characters, only Nancy Marchand playing the formidable mother raises her character above being a shameless object to be maneuvered about. Marchand and Kinnear bring some light to the darkness, but the rest of the film is an insulting mess.
Ranking: 3 / 10

Educating Rita
I enjoyed the maturity of this film. It could have been a very trite film – pragmatic working class girl meets stuffy academic lecturer and they change each other’s lives and ride off into the sunset together to live happily ever after. But the film (based on a play) acknowledges that life isn’t that simple, you can’t change your life without losing things; and having a happily ever after implies that there is one ‘correct’ answer to all the questions of life. The young Julie Walters is fresh, vibrant and just bursting from the screen; Michael Caine somehow makes a world weary character hum with just as much energy and potential. I was not expecting much, and I was hugely impressed. The only thing wrong with the film was the awful synthesizer sound track.
Ranking: 9 / 10

Circus of Books
Karen and Barry Mason are a nice Jewish couple from LA, well into their 70’s now I would think. He is quiet and jovial, she is more firm. They’ve raised three children, one of whom is the writer/director of this documentary. Oh, and since the 1970s they have been running a sex shop specialising in gay porn. It’s the kind of story you couldn’t make up. But while the documentary may start off looking at the unlikely circumstances that led to them setting the shop up, it quickly becomes a really interesting look at gay history and the history of censorship being used to persecute communities. The documentary never loses connection to the personal stories and issues of those involved though, and there is some particularly insightful and challenging psychology to unpick. I thought this was going to be a little bit of fun, but I learnt a lot and was really very moved.
Ranking: 9 / 10

Split
I’m not sure how I’ve missed this film, maybe because I was expecting a film with a powerful central performance and not much else. James McAvoy was impressive as expected playing about half a dozen very different characters. However I was surprised to find there was a lot more to the film. For a start, it’s really Anya Taylor-Joy who’s the central character, and she manages to give her character with just as much depth and complexity. Also the film has more than enough plot, structure and drama to stand up as a really engrossing thriller. It did run a little long, and I did get a bit lost in the idea of the beast, but I was pretty engrossed for most of it.
Ranking: 8 / 10

Porco Rosso
This is an unexpectedly different style of Studio Ghibli film. With the exception of the fact the main character has been cursed and turned into a pig, the rest of the story is played fairly straight and somehow manages to blend a more adult noir-esque film with the Ghibli vibrancy and childlike energy. It really shouldn’t work, but it really really does. I was completely engrossed, frequently laughing out loud and utterly charmed.
Ranking: 8 / 10

No Country for Old Men
I was quite dismissive of this film the first time I saw it in 2008, but rewatching it 12 years later I was more impressed. What I’d previously described as “a slightly uncomfortable mix of a cat and mouse thriller with slow moving thoughtful drama”, I now see as a well balanced mixture of a slick thriller and a grounding thread of characters making sure that the true impacts of these horrors aren’t forgotten. It’s not melodramatic, there is no wailing about the unfairness of life, just a quiet reflection on the reality of the world the events are happening in. I do still feel a bit disappointed in the ending, but can see that the only ‘right’ way to end the story is to not actually have an ending. the performances of all three lead actors are very different and very fine, but for me it’s Tommy Lee Jones that absolutely steals every moment he’s on screen.
Ranking: 8 / 10

Funny Girl
There’s a film here, and there’s a performance. Barbra Streisand’s performance is just phenomenal. She lives up to the title of ‘funny girl’ with beautiful timing and originality, but she also delivers an emotional performance, making it abundantly clear that the label of ‘funny girl’ can be just as much a burden as a celebration. The audience is never in doubt that there is a complex woman beneath the persona. The production values help support the sense of misdirection and illusion and it’s to Streisand’s credit that even the spectacle cannot overwhelm her story. I’ll probably get shouted at for this, but the only thing I didn’t like about it were the songs. I didn’t think it was necessary to make it a musical, and I didn’t feel the songs blended into the story.
Ranking: 8 / 10

Book Club
Really, all you should need to say is that the film stars Diane Keaton,Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen and that should really be enough for anyone. They are playing a group of long time friends who are all very different but have a wonderful bond that just shines off the screen. Frankly I would just watch them all drinking wine and chatting and that would be a very entertaining 2 hours. The icing on the cake is that they are all connecting in different ways with the book Fifty Shades of Grey, and hence these absolutely legends are making dirty jokes and innuendos that had me roaring with laughter. And the cherry on the cake… Richard Dreyfuss turns up for a couple of scenes.
Ranking: 8 / 10

Paradise Hills
This was a bit of a surprise. I was drawn to it by the title card on Netflix which had a beautiful and unusual visual style to it that is carried through the film making it visually incredibly interesting. It’s one of those films that’s a bit hard to categorise and that’s part of its charm, so I’m not really going to try and explain it as I’d recommend you experience it yourself. I don’t think it’s necessarily an amazing film, but it kept me solidly entertained for it’s run time and I think you will get more out of it by not knowing what’s going on.
Ranking: 7 / 10

Beetlejuice
I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen Beetlejuice. I’m not sure how that’s happened, I think because the clips etc have always focused on the wacky central character and irritating goth teenager and I’ve just never been interested. But it turns out the core of the film is actually a really interesting idea as Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin adjust to being dead and having to share their house with people they don’t like. Their slightly inept attempts to deal with the bureaucracy of being dead, and get rid of the unwanted housemates was more easy going fun. I tended to zone out a bit for the more extreme antics of Beetlejuice himself, and tried very hard to ignore the deliberately shoddy special effects pieces that were just a bit much for me. But the rest of it was actually quite nice.
Ranking: 7 / 10

The Vast of Night
I watch a lot of films and it’s not often that there’s something that I feel is markedly different and unusual. The strange thing about The Vast of Night is that while it feels original, it also feels classic, like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Unfortunately, I have to admit that it didn’t entirely work for me. I did like the very natural feeling dialogue, but the sound mixing wasn’t quite good enough and I struggled to make out what the characters were saying until I resorted to subtitles. There were also sections that the music was too overwhelming. However, I did respect the originality of it and the ambition.
Ranking: 6 / 10

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Generic teenage fantasy series. I’ll be honest I didn’t really track the plot that much something about demons and angels and shadowhunters and runes and werewolves and vampires… basically the same old building blocks all thrown in together. Plus of course the whole saving the world thing has to be done in between establishing various overlapping romances. It was a perfectly serviceable film to have on in the background while playing with Lego, the only moment I really took offense to was an overly obvious and loud piece of cheesy pop music to accompany the big kiss in the middle. However it will fade into memory so quickly that in 6 months time, without this review, I would have completely forgotten I ever saw it.
Ranking: 6 / 10

Hannibal
I rewatched Silence of the Lambs a couple of weeks ago and, while it may have been exceptional when it was made, now it’s just a solid and unremarkable thriller. This sequel is just as unremarkable now, except that I think it was born unremarkable rather than slowly being overtaken by newer films. It was perfectly fine, plenty of twists and turns, some stupid characters to drive the plot where it needed to go, deliberately shocking gore that was actually a bit eye-rolly, and a big chunk of hammy overacting.
Ranking: 6 / 10

You’ve Got Mail
1998. Different times. The technology, the fashions and what was considered romantic and acceptable behaviour. I’m sorry but I just can’t find entertainment in a person (male or female) trying to get someone (male or female) to fall in love with them by lying. Even when one of those people is the utterly lovely Tom Hanks. Entrapping someone into a relationship, using the fact that you know more than they do do manipulate them is just creepy. That the film went in that direction is a real shame, because the rest of it was great, with a charismatic pairing, some solid supports and a lovely sense of time and place that has seamlessly moved from being present day to being a period piece. I can think of a couple of ways the writers could have avoided the imbalances, that would actually have made a lot more sense for the characters as well. I was really disappointed.
Ranking: 6 / 10

Top Hat
Eh. I guess it’s fine? I struggled to really engage with the film to be honest, which meant for a big chunk I lost track of the plot and logistics of how the identities were mistaken and why everyone was making such a fuss. It’s fine, there’s some funny bits and nice dancing, but nothing to really write home about. At least it’s short.
Ranking: 6 / 10

Extraction
I don’t really understand the business logic of these big action films that Netflix is premiering. They must be incredibly expensive to make, but I can’t imagine that they’re ever going to be what finally convinces someone to get a Netflix subscription, or to not cancel it for another month. You’d have to be a pretty huge Chris Hemsworth fan to think that this was worth paying a subscription for. In a cinema this kind of big dumb action film works because the stunt sequences on the big screen and the soundtrack through the massive sound system keep you fully engaged. But on the small thing it’s just not good enough and you can’t help but get bored by the daft plot, and frustrated by the poor dialogue (what little there is of it between grunts). It passes the time but it’s perilously close to being laughably bad.
Ranking: 6 / 10

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this film. It was certainly a very interesting film to look at with an utterly unique style to it, I was mesmerised watching it. Unfortunately that was about the only thing that really grabbed me because the plot and characters left me cold. I never really emotionally engaged in the story, it just felt like an itinerary bouncing between different locations. Similarly the characters never quite connected and I felt slightly uncomfortable with the amount of violence and guns in an otherwise inoffensive children’s film. But then I was always an Asterix kinda girl growing up rather than a Tintin one.
Ranking: 6 / 10

The Silence of the Lambs
I think this is probably one of those films that at the time of making it was really something very special, but in the intervening decades has been completely eclipsed not just by other films, but frankly by a fair number of TV shows. The structure is interesting, the interweaving stories of two different serial killers and following not the main investigations, but a small side story. However everything else about the film is a bit dreary now – performances that feel completely over-egged, obvious direction and a completely lack of subtlety throughout. It’s an important step in the history of film/TV, but watching it now the interest is more in its place in history than actually as a film for entertainment.
Ranking: 5 / 10

Crimson Peak
I was looking forward to Guillermo del Toro’s new film. Pan’s Labyrinth, while not necessarily enjoyable, was incredibly original; full of character, creepiness and gorgeous design work. Crimson Peak came with the bonus of not having to be distracted by reading subtitles and another bonus of Tom Hiddleston. Of all that, the only thing that actually carried through was the gorgeous design (well, and Tom Hiddleston being pretty). The house in particular is an incredible piece of work, so complicated and textured as it falls down around the characters. It’s such an integral part of the story and it’s by far the most interesting thing on screen.
Everything else was, frankly, fairly dull. It was neither creepy enough, nor romantic enough to be a true gothic romance. The plot is incredibly predictable, I kept coming up with more adventurous and interesting explanations and then being disappointed when the real answers were so much more trite. The characters are single note giving the talented cast very little to work with, even Tom Hiddleston couldn’t quite elevate his character to anything particularly interesting. To top it all off there are unfortunate moments that reminded me of 80’s comedies such as The Money Pit and Death Becomes Her. After the first half hour or so I was just chanting in my head “get on with it” and if I were limited to a one word review it would be “dull”. If I had a couple more it would be “pretty, but dull”.
Ranking: 5 / 10

Space Jam
I think the most that can be said about this film is that it is only bad, it’s not as catastrophically awful as it could have been. By all rights, the worst thing about this film should have been Michael Jordan who I’m sure is an incredibly talented basketball player, but has absolutely no right to be leading a blockbuster movie. As it turns out, his innate charm is one of the brighter spots of the film, he (and the other basketball stars featured) are sort of adorably amateur but soldier through with self-deprecating humour. Beyond that though it’s miserable. The plot is ridiculous which wouldn’t matter if they didn’t spend quite so much time trying to explain it, and Looney Toon characters should be left in small screen, short cartoons. And the biggest crime – starting and ending the film with R Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly.
Ranking: 5 / 10

Red Dragon
It’s interesting how the Silence of the Lambs series has gone steadily downhill. This is a really bargain basement entry that feels incredibly clumsy, predictable and charmless from the very get go. The story seemed to rely heavily on the belief that Edward Norton’s character was some kind of genius investigator, but instead it just made all the other investigators look stupid that they’d missed the clues that anyone who’s seen a season of Criminal Minds would pick up on. Edward Norton is an actor I struggle to get on with, particularly when he’s trying to play sincere and likable and rather failing. Ralph Fiennes delivers and over-the-top performance in keeping with the writing and Anthony Hopkins’ standard. It’s dull and unremarkable.
Ranking: 5 / 10

Coco Before Chanel
On one hand, a fascinating insight into someone I knew absolutely nothing about. I was amazed to learn that the famous fashion designer started out in such desperate struggles, seeking out opportunities where she could. But this isn’t the story of someone with a dream, an artist with a passion, desperately fighting to realise it. In fact the biggest problem with the film for me was that I could never quite work out how Coco felt about anything, what she wanted either long or short term. She seemed to have a low level disdain for absolutely everything and everyone. The moments where she truly emotes (either positively or negatively) are the high points of the film, but they were too few and far between, and too unpredictable. I found her, and therefore the film, incredibly frustrating.
Ranking: 5 / 10

Pitch Perfect 3
The things I love about the original Pitch Perfect are that Anna Kendrick is perfection, the song and dance numbers are joyous, and there are verbal and visual jokes that have me laughing out loud. Unfortunately, the thing I don’t like about the series is Rebel Wilson. I simply don’t find her funny. Her character is just too much, overwhelming the ensemble, upping the cringe-factor and stepping on quieter moments. Unfortunately I felt Pitch Perfect 3 built up her role, and the whole balance was broken. Also it didn’t feel like there were as many songs!
Ranking: 5 / 10

Films in March 2020

Well isn’t the world very odd at the moment? I’ve not got the abundance of free time that some people seem to have, so I’ve not had a dramatic uptick in film watching, and my choices of films are tending more towards the low imapct end of the spectrum. I managed to get one last cinema trip in before they closed, and at least I ended on a high note.

Onward (cinema)
The concept behind Onward is that magic has been lost from the realm of fairy tale-esque creatures, they may be elves and centaurs, but they now live in a world of cars and smart phones. Ian and Barley are mismatched brothers who get the chance to spend one day with their father who died when they were very young, but they have to work together and rediscover magic in order to do it. It’s a really well crafted and fun story. Although all the familiar “tropes” of a magical quest are there, they’re approached in a fresh and self aware way. Chris Pratt and Tom Holland are wonderful as the two brothers, having a lot of fun but delivering real heart as well. I laughed out loud at both the spoken jokes and the visual ones, and teared up appropriately for the lovely emotional conclusion.
The problem is that if any other studio, even Disney Studios itself had made Onward all that praise would have been enough. But Pixar have set themselves an impossibly high standard, their films when at their best are works of art, creating vivid new worlds that offer stunning insight into our own. Onward is not that film. It felt like there was more that could have been done, more richness and detail in the magical world (compare with Zootopia), or creativity in visual style, or even in the soundtrack. I did enjoy the film immensely, but I don’t think it will stay with me and be one that I either reach down from the DVD shelf again and again over the years.

Alien Quaudrilogy
I watched my way through the Alien box set. Watching them back to back is quite interesting, as it highlights the similarities and differences. The first film in 1979 almost defined the whole genre, but by the fourth, nearly 20 years later the genre has left the series behind a bit.
Alien – Many of the special effects and even just film style now feel very clunky, even if they were groundbreaking. However the fundamentals of the story and how it feels to watch it haven’t changed. It’s still thrilling, and even after dozens of references and parodies over the years, it still gets the adrenaline going.
Aliens – Everything is bigger than in Alien – the sets, the size of the cast, and the explosions, the only thing that isn’t bigger is the brains. I felt it had turned this into more or a classic action film going from one set piece to another rather than telling a mapped out suspenseful story. Then to add insult to injury, they added a small child in, as if they realised that the marines were all utterly unengaging and both Ripley and the audience needed someone to actually connect with. It’s an exciting adventure, but I don’t think it does anything creative or special, unlike the first film.
Aliens 3 – At the end of this film it’s clear that this was supposed to be the end of a trilogy. Ironically when they eventually made the 4th film, it made this film be the one that’s most irrelevant. Opening by unceremoniously killing off the characters that Ripley had previously established relationships with, and the film never really finds that level of emotion and humanity again. Ripley is emotionally shut down, which is understandable but very boring, and the prisoners she finds herself with are hard to tell about. There’s just nothing here that jumps out or gives any personality.
Alien Resurrection – The nuts and bolts of the film bring absolutely nothing new to the franchise, with yet another rag-tag group fighting to survive against the alien menace and the usual selection of human antagonists. Fortunately Sigourney Weaver has something new to chew on, with the resurrected Ripley changed by her experiences, and a bit of Alien DNA. That iteration on her character actually makes this film rise above the previously unremarkable Alien 3.

The Boxtrolls (Netflix)
A really lovely, charming film that’s thoroughly original. It’s grungier than most Disney, perfectly suited to the intricate detail of the stop motion animation of Laika studios. The story is a classic one, but the details and specifics are rich and original. The voice cast is familiar, it’s hard to not see Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost and Jared Harris when you hear their voices, but that also means their characters are richer for their inherited histories. It’s a lovely film that I can see watching over and over again.

Julie and Julia (Netflix)
I found this film utterly charming! I was really surprised at how much I loved it, I thought the modern half of the story would be filler to Meryl Streep’s impression of the slightly ridiculous Julia Child. But if anything it was the Streep half that felt like filler. I loved Julie and all her (many) trials, tribulations and failings, cookery based and otherwise. I haven’t laughed this hard at a film in a very long time or been so sad when it counted down to it’s final recipe.

Midsommar (Amazon)
This film brings two things the sub-genre of horror films about creepy cults that I really liked. The first was the fact that the whole thing is set in big open spaces in the sunshine. Horror films are too often set in dark and claustrophic spaces, where I frequently find myself struggling to be able to actually see what’s going on. But here there are bright blue skies and wide open fields, that by the end of the film feel just as threatening. The second thing I very much like is the wonderful Florence Pugh who brought an intense believability, that grounded even the weirdest of scenes. There’s a great blend of all the major horror styles, there are jump scares, creepy oddness, edge of seat suspense and visual gore. I would say that in order to get all that in the film does drag on a little with a nearly 2.5 hour runtime, which meant by the end I was rather willing it to be over.

A Cock and Bull Story (Amazon)
What an incredibly odd film. All I knew going in was that it was a film of the supposedly “unfilmable” Tristram Shandy, it quickly became clear that this was much stranger and a blend of actual film, and a fictional account of the making of that film. I don’t know whether they tried to write that film and then realised they couldn’t or always set out to make this behind the scenes film, but either way I think the result is possibly inspired. Possibly. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon don’t hold back playing extreme versions of themselves. All the characters walk a fine line between parody and tender observation which gives the film a real heart beneath some of the cheap laughs. I wasn’t expecting a film with quite so many layers to it, and would actually quite like to watch it again now I know what to expect.

The Aeronauts (Amazon)
This is one of those films that is quite deceptive. It appears to be quite a straightforward period adventure story of two people trying to fly a hot air balloon higher than anyone has gone before in the 1860’s, with plenty of extreme weather, clambering through ropes, and life and death peril. But the character studies going on at the same time are what bring the film to life. Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne create rich and fascinating individuals and then bring them together in a relationship that’s adversarial, respectful, and challenging. I’m glad the film was structured with the balloon journey playing out in approximately real time through the film, while the story of how they got there is told through flashbacks, as a linear story it would have been predictable and probably felt too slow, but jumping around in time gave the story a lot more life. The film is beautifully shot, with period details on the ground and scenes on the balloon that are both claustrophobic and spacious. I wish I’d seen this on the big screen; even on a TV the shots of the balloon flying were beautiful, and I think at the cinema they would have been really breathtaking. It’s a lovely film that I think could easily be overlooked.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (Netflix)
I was lucky enough to see this during the Picturehouse’s Studio Ghibli season and it’s a lovely film to see on the big screen. Some animations work on the big screen because of the amount of detail (Zootopia or Big Hero 6 for example), but this one works because of the simplicity of the animation. The simplicity of the lines, character design and the colours are so elegant on the big screen. It’s a pure kids film, a slow burning fairy tale but there’s enough touches of humour to keep it interesting for adults too. The majority of the film is a very gentle, slow ride which builds to an ending which felt a little rushed, but maybe watching things play out over the titles is the best way to gently break away from the lovely world.

Shrek (Netflix)
Learning from the Toy Story school of making animation fun for adults and taking it even further this Dreamworks CGI is a lot of fun. It’s not as subtle as Pixar at its best, but there’s plenty of jokes that made me laugh out loud. I think the biggest thing I remember about this film is the soundtrack that hits all the right points. The story is nothing special, but the injokes, side comments and references make this just as entertaining the 6th time as the 1st.

Intolerable Cruelty (Amazon)
A romantic comedy from the Coen brothers. Meaning it’s pretty black, deeply bizarre, very quirky and very funny in places. George Clooney is dialling up the smarmy charm and Catherine Zeta Jones the aloof manipulator; both playing their characters very carefully so they’re extreme, but don’t quite fall over into completely unbelievable. The looping of the plot did get a little tiresome, particular if you can see the steps coming, but the utter weirdness of the characters, and some great supporting characters keep it enjoyable.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Netflix)
As I was scrolling endlessly through Netflix, this this documentary caught my eye because I’d recently seen the Tom Hanks film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and I thought I’d try to get a little more insight. If you’re looking for hard hitting journalism here, you’re going to be disappointed and I didn’t really get anything more than I did from the dramatisation. There is some interesting insight into how he got into children’s television and then how he left it for a while before feeling he needed to return. However most of it is just a group of people talking about a very nice person. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, but I think I’d prefer to watch Tom Hanks.

Blinded by the Light (Amazon)
Labels like “feel good film of the year” are frequently misapplied, either to films that are trying way too hard, or to films where there’s a lot of misery before the feel good. On the plus side, this film doesn’t have too much trauma, just enough to get the characters moving, and the feel good tunes kick in pretty early. But I never fully engaged with the characters, their stories, or the music itself and so never got the full benefits of the positivity. I felt like an awful lot of energy was expended in telling me how everyone felt and how amazing Bruce Springsteen’s music were, but I never actually felt it, so was just left a bit bored.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (DVD)
I remember this film incredibly fondly from my childhood, but actually haven’t seen it in decades. It’s hard not to compare it to Mary Poppins, despite being 7 years younger they had interweaving production timelines and shared several cast and crew, and most notably the songs for each were done by the Sherman Brothers. Mary Poppins clearly has the stronger cultural history and it’s sadly quite clear why when re-watching Bedknobs as an adult. If Dick Van Dyke’s accent in Poppins was dubious, the children in Bedknobs are an absolute horror which it’s very hard to get over. The wonderful Angela Landsbury is painfully wooden and delivers lines like someone that’s wondering what happened to her career. That’s a shame, because the story itself is charming, the characters are fun (David Tomlinson the only member of the cast seemingly having fun) and the animation is fun (the football match in particular). But the real standout are the Sherman brothers’ songs which are just as catchy as the Mary Poppins ones, and all the lyrics came flooding back as soon as I heard the overture (“Treguna Mekoides Trecorum Satis Dee”). It’s still a fun film, but not nearly as timeless as it’s older sister.

Pacific Rim: Uprising (Netflix)
I just went back and reread my review of Pacific Rim and it’s interesting that while I absolutely loved the action and described it as loud, cool and fun in the cinema when I re-watched it on tv I downgraded it because the spectacle just wasn’t as good and started to reveal some poor scripting. I didn’t see Pacific Rim: Uprising at the cinema and maybe I would have thought more fondly if I had. One of the strengths of the original was that it didn’t have big name hollywood stars which gave the characters more individuality, here the lack of big stars just felt like it lacked talent. John Boyega was the notable exception, creating an interesting lead (the icecream scene was a standout), but the rest were a bit flat and failed to bring personality to either their own characters, or the massive robots that they were powering. The onscreen action sequences weren’t enough to distract from the fact that the plot and even the music didn’t give me the same punch of adrenaline. The whole thing felt like it lacked heart, didn’t have the same sense of jeopardy and desperation that the first did and just left me feeling flat.

Jabberwocky (Amazon)
I had a lot of complicated thoughts while watching this film, mostly because the film itself was so utterly boring and unentertaining that my brain desperately went looking for something else to do. I was trying to work out why I didn’t like this, but I do like Monty Python. There’s so much that overlaps with Python (people and style) and yet while I find Python hilarious, this just seemed ridiculous. I did have to wonder whether it was because I’d been TOLD Python was funny, and have seen it so often in the context of it being wonderful, whereas Jabberwocky was forgotten and overlooked. I guess I’ll never really know, but I certainly won’t be watching Jabberwocky again to give it another try.

Films in February 2020

NEW RELEASES
Parasite (Cinema)
I didn’t see Parasite until after it had won all the awards, so I had fairly high expectations but had thankfully avoided all spoilers about the content and even the style. That freedom from preconception is really important for this film, so I’ll stay equally vague. Sadly there’s no way to get around the fact that everyone knows the film is supposed to be superb and that in itself can damage a film. It’s easy to watch the film looking for reasons why it should or shouldn’t have won awards than actually just watching the film. That’s especially true of a film like Parasite that on the surface doesn’t scream out that it’s doing something special. But it is. The more I sank into the film while watching it, and in the time I’ve been thinking about it since, there are layers upon layers of pure quality. It’s absolutely packed with everything anyone could hope for. The story is timeless but completely fresh, entertaining and engaging on the surface, but with levels and levels of depth and complexity. The direction and production design of the film is beautiful, but looks effortless rather than fussy or contrived. My only problem with the film is that being in Korean I felt I was missing out on some of the richness of the performances, struggling to identify the inflections and subtleties in the language. But even without that nuance, the ensemble cast still shone and connected.
This film not only thoroughly deserved its Oscar win, but it’s win gives me hope for the awards and cinema as a whole.

Birds of Prey (Cinema)
I’d like to say that I went to see this to make a point about seeing films (particularly action / superhero films) written and directed by women, but I’m afraid I didn’t. I went to see this on a complete whim, I came out of one cinema screen and didn’t feel like going home, and this was the next thing on. I was very happy with my choice. OK, it’s not a masterpiece that’s going to be winning academy awards, but it was exactly what it needed to be and should be – bright, exciting, engaging and with just enough substance to it to raise it above disposable fluff. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is mesmerising, she may seem bonkers, but she’s actually seeing things possibly more clearly than anyone else. The world she lives in is insane and she’s just reacting accordingly. The rest of the Birds of Prey can’t quite find the space to shine for most of the film, which is a little disappointing as for most of the film any scene without Harley in it is just a little duller and starts to lag. In the unchallenging competition of the DC cinematic universe, this is the first one that hasn’t disappointed me.

Uncut Gems (Netflix)
When I see the name Adam Sandler attached to a film I expect something somewhere between an inoffensively charming rom com and an unbearabley awkward comedy. This is absolutely nothing like anything he’s ever done, and he’s amazing in it. He plays a gem dealer dodging from one slightly dodgy deal to the next, but the edges of his world are closing in, the deals are getting tighter, the risks are getting higher. The sense of pace and claustrophobia of the film are incredible, I spent the whole thing thinking disaster was around every corner and each time he just about negotiates a way through it just got more intense. I didn’t actually enjoy watching it because of that tension, but I was very impressed by it.

OLDER FILMS (roughly ordered good to bad)
For Sama (TV)
I’ve passed on multiple opportunities to see this film but eventually, after it won the BAFTA and the people behind the film spoke so powerfully, I figured it wasn’t something I should avoid. I’m so glad I did. I’m woefully under-informed on why there is a conflict in Syria, and this film does not do much to fill that gap. However the film isn’t about that, it’s about what it’s like to be on one side of the conflict, to live, work and raise a family in the city that has always been your home and is now a battleground. Waad Al-Kateab is a journalist and film maker, her husband Hamza Al-Khateab is one of the few doctors left in Aleppo and he is trying to keep a hospital running. When Waad becomes pregnant they decide to stay in the city they love, fighting for what they believe, and helping their friends and community. The footage in the documentary is intense, brutal and at times almost unbearable. But also intimate, gentle and occasionally even joyous. It is an absolutely unparalleled look into what individuals actually experience in these situations, behind the news footage and the headlines and it is the kind of film that everyone should watch.

The Favourite (rewatch, DVD)
What an odd film. I mean from the director of The Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Dear, that’s hardly surprising. In fact the only thing that’s surprising is the fact that such a weird movie is getting such a huge mainstream release. Of course that’s mostly down to national treasure Olivia Colman who is perfectly cast and perfectly delivers the complex heart of the film – a farcical character driven by incredible tragedy. There are few actresses that could manage to imbue a character with such strength, childishness, pride, rage, loneliness and just all round complexity. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone have relatively simple roles beside that, but the triangle of the three of them is only as strong because of all three points. That complexity and confusion occasionally lurches in the film, and while the ending was ‘right’ it maybe wasn’t as satisfying as I might have wanted. But I was impressed, entertained and quietly stunned through the whole film and can’t think of anything that compares.

The Post (rewatch, Amazon Prime)
It’s somewhat astonishing that Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have never worked together before, and when you add on an excellent supporting cast and an interesting, and topical, historical event you’re on to a winning formula. I would suggest that the film doesn’t really do much more than put those ingredients together and let it go, there’s not much in the way of embellishment or decoration to it, but then good ingredients do speak for themselves. Everyone is on solid form and the whole thing trips along nicely, just about keeping me understanding a story and background that I knew almost nothing about. I don’t think there’s anything particularly remarkable about the film, but when it brings so many greats together, it can’t help but be something a little bit special.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (rewatch, DVD)
I had issues with the previous film failing to capture the wonder and excitement of the original Jurassic Park and feeling rather soul-less. With my expectations lowered accordingly, I was actually pleasantly surprised that Fallen Kingdom does manage to do something new, to raise some interesting questions about the dinosaurs and tug at the heart strings. The mixture of actual plot and action sequences is just right, never leaving it too long without some excitement, but also not dragging sequences out until they get dull. Yes, there’s plenty of cheesy moments, and the plot doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but the characters are fun, the cast charismatic and the special effects convincing. There wasn’t a single moment of the film when I was bored or my brain escaped back to the real world. Exactly what I’m looking for in Jurassic Park films.

Long Shot (Netflix)
A comedy starring Seth Rogen was not something I instinctively thought I’d enjoy, but Mark Kermode said that it was not what you’d expect and I thought I’d give him, and the always excellent Charlize Theron the benefit of the doubt. They weren’t wrong. Both Theron and Rogen are perfect for their roles, her as the ambitious politician who still has plenty of humour, heart and humanity underneath her perfect exterior; him as the crass and scruffy but principled journalist. They’re an unlikely partnering, but the chemistry is immediate and enjoyable to watch, powering through the rest of the film and the usual unlikely rom-com events pushing them together and pulling them apart. I wouldn’t say it’s a complete classic, but it’s a rare adult comedy film that really did make me laugh.

Deadwood (DVD)
This isn’t really a film. It’s really a double episode finale of the TV series that we’ve just had to THIRTEEN YEARS to. Mind you the TV series was always pretty cinematic anyway, as one of the grandfathers of the latest ‘golden age’ of television that saw series like The Wire and The Sopranos start to show what could be done on cable channels with big commitments, big budgets and allowing the series creators far more autonomy than was found on networks. If this film had played out as the series’ fourth season it would have been a perfect fit, as a film it’s a bit odd. There are little clips of moments from the original series that are a bit clumsy if you know the series (I rewatched it recently) and it’s all wrapped up a little too neatly for a series that is so uncompromising. Still, it was lovely to see the cast together again (no small feat) and if my biggest complaint is that I was left feeling happy and satisfied, than I should probably keep my mouth shut.

My Neighbour Totoro (rewatch, Netflix)
Despite some beautiful visuals, I’m afraid I was unimpressed by this film. I was certain I must have seen it before, but I either completely forgot it or actually have missed it when I’ve watched other Studio Ghibli films. There were some scenes and individual frames that I would happily have as prints on my wall, the softness and detail of the backgrounds, combined with the simple impact of the characters are really breathtaking. But the story just didn’t sing to me. Maybe it was the quality of the dub, but I never quite lost myself in the characters, they always felt like voices and animation, not that I was watching whole people. It is however very clear how other future Ghibli works grew from these foundations.

Mrs Lowry and Son (Netflix)
Timothy Spall’s second excellent performance as a British painter, but yet again in a film that is nowhere near as good as his performance. I knew nothing about Lowry and the film portrays a fascinating relationship with his elderly, bullying mother (played by the wonderful Vanessa Redgrave). But the writing is painfully poor at places. Incredibly on-the-nose dialogue that even these talented actors can’t quite make feel natural, clunky flashbacks and overly malodramatic sequences that just make the whole thing feel slightly cheap. There are some powerful and beautiful moments, but those are largely either when the actors have no words to say, or the director is seeking out the artistic visuals.

Oscars: Films of 2019

Thirty eight films are nominated for Oscars this year and I’ve seen 21 of them, covering 70% of the nominations. The big ones that I missed are Parasite (6 nominations), Ford v Ferrari (4) and Bombshell (3); and I suspect not seeing Parasite will mean some of my calls below are off. I have to say it’s a bit of a disappointing year both for films and the quality of the nominations. It feels like the industry has taken a step backwards in diversity in film making and the Academy has taken an even bigger step back in what they chose to recognise. There were opportunities missed to celebrate more diverse people and a greater range of films, there were significant achievements that haven’t been celebrated while slots were taken up with unremarkable entries from traditional names that coast their way to nominations on automatic. I’ll call out some of the alternative options as I go through.

Best Picture

  • Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite
  • My Pick: See my earlier post for more detailed thoughts, but to make a long story short, my pick would be Marriage Story
    Prediction: 1917, and I’m not going to be cross about that.
    What’s Missing: Rocketman was my film of the year and it should not only be nominated but I think I probably would have picked it as my choice to win. I also wanted to see more diversity in the nominations in terms of genres, Avengers Endgame should be there, so should Us, potentially Knives Out and even For Sama which will likely win the documentary prize.

    Best Director

  • Martin Scorsese – The Irishman, Todd Phillips – Joker, Sam Mendes – 1917, Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Bong Joon-ho – Parasite
  • My pick and prediction: I don’t think anyone other than Sam Mendes need bother writing a speech. 1917 wasn’t just the best direction of the year, it was probably the best direction of the century so far. It was an incredible challenge to keep everything in very long takes that splice together to make 2 seemingly unbroken acts, and yet the ambition of the complexity of the shots was never compromised. It was truly ground breaking.
    What’s missing: Martin Scorses did absolutely nothing outstanding on The Irishman that I can see so his place on this list so that’s one gap that can be filled. Dexter Fletcher did a superb job with Rocketman creating a film that blends intimate character with spectacle. The Safdie brothers’ delivered almost unbearable tension in Uncut Gems, and Greta Gerwig’s direction of Little Women was beautiful and understated. But why nominate a woman when there’s a 70 year old white guy doing the same thing he’s been doing for decades? Yes, I’m pretty cross about The Irishman.

    Best Actor

  • Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory: the only one I haven’t seen unfortunately
  • Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: this is the one I’m least certain about. It was a good performance, but I’m not sure the material gave him the depth to really be outstanding
  • Adam Driver – Marriage Story: a powerful performance of a proper person, balancing good and bad, anger and restraint, drama and reason.
  • Joaquin Phoenix – Joker: His performance is so intense and claustrophobic, so much buried just below the surface that even thinking about it makes me feel anxious.
  • Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes: In some ways like Phoenix this is a performance of what is just below the surface and Pryce is just as mesmerizing, but in a more positive way.
  • My pick and prediction: This is a strong list. I think I would probably go with Joaquin Phoenix. 80% of this film is down to him, supported by some good direction and some unsettling music, he is completely responsible for making the film so compelling and so horrible to watch. I can’t think of many other actors who could have played this role, whereas most of the others I think could have been swapped and still worked.
    My prediction: I think Phoenix will win, but I can also see that the Academy might give it to Jonathan Pryce as a bit of a lifetime achievement award.
    Who’s missing: Taryn Egerton for Rocketman should have been on this list and for me he’d be Phoenix’s biggest competition as he also gave a performance that had so many layers to it (and he sang!). Also Eddie Murphy was superb in Dolemite is my Name, and Adam Sandler puts in a very different and impressive performance in Uncut Gems. Also George MacKay for 1917 because while I didn’t think it was necessarily the best performance of the year, when you take into account that there was no editing to get each frame perfect, he did that performance every time while also doing choreography and stunts that left me breathless.

    Best Actress

  • Cynthia Erivo – Harriet, Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story, Saoirse Ronan – Little Women, Charlize Theron – Bombshell, Renée Zellweger – Judy
  • My pick: I’ve only seen Marriage Story and Little Women and I’m not sure I could pick between the two actresses.
    Prediction: Renée Zellweger will almost certainly win
    Who’s missing: Lupita Nyonga for Us, slightly cheating because she had two roles but she was terrifying. Awkwafina was wonderful in The Farewell, Jessie Buckley for Wild Rose.

    Best Supporting Actor

  • Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: a really weird character played beautifully by Hanks
  • Anthony Hopkins – The Two Popes: I don’t think this was as good a performance as Jonathan Pryce’s, there was just less going on with the character and you basically got what you saw.
  • Al Pacino and Joe Pesci – The Irishman: I couldn’t actually tell you who did what role, I just didn’t think there was any depth to the characters, just stereotype gangsters
  • Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A solid performance but nothing special imho.
  • My pick: Tom Hanks, easily
    My prediction: Brad Pitt seems to be picking up all the awards for some reason.

    Best Supporting Actress

  • Kathy Bates – Richard Jewell: not seen
  • Laura Dern – Marriage Story: I didn’t actually think there was anything particularly outstanding about her performance here, if anything I found her character a bit extreme, detracting from the honesty of the film.
  • Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit: the successful parts of this film were entirely down to the performances of Johansson and Waititi, the two voices in Jojo’s ears that were in counterpoint to each other, but had the same tone of quirky truthfulness. Johansson was perfect playing an incredibly rich character who loves her son but doesn’t like him sometimes, wants to open his eyes but has to stay secret. Beautifully done.
  • Florence Pugh – Little Women: Through Pugh’s beautiful performance and Gerwig’s wonderful writing Amy somehow rises from pages (and previous performances) that often sideline her as the spoilt child and turns her into a powerful woman of her time. Without losing sight of the fact that she is also occasionally a spoilt child.
  • Margot Robbie – Bombshell: I haven’t seen this film, but Margot Robbie is fairly universally wonderful.
  • My pick: I would like either Johansson or Pugh, but I think Johansson edges it because much of Pugh’s wonderfulness comes from Gerwig’s interpretation of the character.
    Prediction: Laura Dern seems to have it in the bag for reasons that completely escape me.

    Best Original Screenplay

  • Knives Out – Rian Johnson: I’m very happy to see this nomination as I think it would be easy to overlook how hard it is to write such a satisfying murder mystery, pacing out the twists and turns.
  • Marriage Story – Noah Baumbach: A film where the writing is absolutely everything, delivered by very good actors, but fundamentally everything was on the page.
  • 1917 – Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns: While the film was incredible, the story and dialogue was ‘just’ there in service of the direction I think. If the film hadn’t been shot in such a dramatic style I don’t think it would be nominated here.
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino: In many ways this is the least Tarantino film of his and I’m not sure it necessarily did him any favours. The writing is fine, but not outstanding.
  • Parasite – Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won: Haven’t seen
  • My Pick and prediction: Marriage Story easily.
    What’s missing: I think if the Academy were as open minded as they should be they’d be forced to recognize the writing achievement of Avengers Endgame, blending so many characters, complex story threads, humour and action together. I don’t understand how that is less of an achievement than the writing of a drama with just a handful of characters and a simple story.

    Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Irishman – Steven Zaillian, Jojo Rabbit – Taika Waititi, Joker – Todd Phillips and Scott Silver, Little Women, The Two Popes – Anthony McCarten
  • My pick and prediction Hands down this should be Greta Gerwig. She took a story that had been adapted dozens of times before and found new layers to it without losing any of the original. By the way, she’s partners with Noah Baumbach so wouldn’t that make a lovely pair of bookends for them.

    Best Animated Feature Film

  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World: I was very sad about how they chose to end the series, but I can’t fault the way that the story was delivered.
  • I Lost My Body: A french animation (although I watched the dubbed version) about an amputated hand that is trying to find its way back to its body. It shouldn’t work, and yet it really does. The way simple 2d animation is used to make a hand such a powerful character is impressive.
  • Klaus: This film was easily missed on Netflix but was actually a really entertaining, original and beautiful new addition to any Christmas watch list.
  • Missing Link: I was underwelmed I’m afraid, just completely lacking in originality.
  • Toy Story 4: As with How to Train Your Dragon, I was sad about how they ended the film, but thoroughly enjoyed it all the way up to that point.
  • My pick: Klaus. Original, fun, moving and beautiful in look and content.
    My prediction: Toy Story 4
    Missing: I’m not devastated by the absence of Frozen 2, but Shaun the Sheep Farmageddon should have been there and potentially even won it.

    Best International Feature Film

  • Corpus Christi (Poland), Honeyland (North Macedonia), Les Misérables (France), Pain and Glory (Spain), Parasite (South Korea)
  • Prediction: I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t seen any of these, but I think it will be a miracle if anything other than Parasite wins.

    Best Documentary Feature

  • American Factory: Really interesting and well put together. It did everything a documentary should – it informed, it intrigued and it made me care.
  • The Cave: Not seen
  • The Edge of Democracy: I knew nothing about Brazilian politics but because the film is told exclusively from one point of view it didn’t work for me as an introduction to the subject as I don’t quite trust what I was shown.
  • For Sama: Stunning. While it’s as biased as The Edge of Democracy, this documentary isn’t trying to explain the why’s of a situation, it’s trying to show what it’s like to live through it and it does that spectacularly.
  • Honeyland: Not seen.
  • My pick and prediction: For Sama. An incredible and important piece of film making
    Missing: while it’s not as hard hitting a subject, the Fyre documentary was hugely entertaining and an excellent case study of business psychology.

    Best Original Score

  • Joker – Hildur Guðnadóttir, Little Women – Alexandre Desplat, Marriage Story – Randy Newman, 1917 – Thomas Newman, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – John Williams
  • My pick and prediction: I have to say, of the 4 films I’ve seen the only one I remember the music in is Joker and that wasn’t because it was a memorable tune, but just because it contributed so much to the oppressive mood of the film. Of course John Williams can also do no wrong and I’m sure his latest Star Wars soundtrack continued to build interestingly on his foundations, so I wouldn’t be sad to see him win (interestingly it would only be his 6th Oscar from FIFTY TWO nominations.)

    Best Original Song

    “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from Toy Story 4 – Music and Lyrics by Randy Newman: What a weird song, in the context of the film it’s cute but the lyrics themselves could be interpreted very differently and I’m not sure that the jaunty music quite matches the subject.
    “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman: compared to the rest of Elton and Taupin’s back catalog that’s in the film, this one didn’t stand out, but that’s pretty tough competition.
    “I’m Standing with You” from Breakthrough – Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren: meh.
    “Into the Unknown” from Frozen 2: I didn’t like it as much as Let it Go, but it was a great belter of a song. I feel very sorry for all the parents who have to listen to kids try to sing it without decades of Broadway experience.
    Stand Up” from Harriet – Music and Lyrics by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo: A powerful song that really stays with you AND works for the film.
    My pick and prediction: Stand Up. This will also make Cynthia Erivo the youngest ever EGOT. Missing though is No Place Like Home for Wild Rose, anyone who saw Jessie Buckley perform it at the BAFTAs will be bemused that it’s not nominated.

    Best Sound Editing: Ford v Ferrari, Joker, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
    Best Sound Mixing: Ad Astra, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    Meh, who knows. Star Wars for Editing and 1917 for mixing?

    Best Production Design

  • The Irishman: Dreary and unremarkable, looks like absolutely every single gangster film ever made.
  • Jojo Rabbit: In contrast, Jojo Rabbit did something original, making Nazi Germany full of light and colour
  • 1917: so much detail bringing all the locations to life.
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: The period details were beautifully recreated and shot
  • Parasite: Haven’t seen
  • My pick and prediction: 1917
    Missing: I would have LOVED to see Pokemon Detective Pikachu in here!

    Best Cinematography

  • The Irishman, Joker, The Lighthouse, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Pick and prediction: 1917 by a landslide. Roger Deakins’ work is usually something special and even if 1917 had been shot in a normal way he would still likely have been on this list, but to produce that within the constraints of the single takes was just on another level.

    Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Bombshell, Joker, Judy, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, 1917
  • Two films that are changing people faces to resemble someone else, two films making people look scary and one film making people look dirty (and possibly injured, I’m not sure if that counts as makeup). I never quite understand how the sci-fi films that are doing such amazing prosthetics and alien looks never make it into this category. I’m not sure how you compare any of them.
    My prediction: Joker as the makeup is so obvious and so part of the character as his clown mask changes throughout the film.

    Best Costume Design

  • The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • All of these films are in some way recreating periods, so it doesn’t feel like they’re on the same level of creativity as films like Star Wars, Avengers, even Us. That said, period piece Downton Abbey should have been there instead of The Irishman.
    My pick: Jojo Rabbit at least was at least taking the period pieces and building from them. Although I also wouldn’t mind Little Women because they were having to be a little bit more creative in how people from that period with limited funds would work, adapting and re-purposing hand me downs etc.

    Best Film Editing

  • Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Parasite
  • My pick and prediction: Joker, the editing contributed so much to the horrible sense of dread. The irony of the The Irishman being nominated here is insane, it was over 3 hours long and STILL didn’t find any time for character depth or any female characters.

    Best Visual Effects

  • Avengers: Endgame, The Irishman, The Lion King, 1917, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • My pick: Avengers of Star Wars – I just want to see the mainstream action/scifi genres get SOME love somewhere. These films show the biggest range of effects. Irishman is just a single trick of de-aging actors (which it admittedly did very well) and Lion King is ‘just’ CGI animation.
    My prediction: 1917, which wasn’t bad.

    Oscars: Best Films of 2019

    Nine nominees for Best film this year and I’ve managed to see 7 of them. Parasite is only released on Friday and I don’t think I’m going to have a chance to see before the awards on Sunday. It’s frustrating that a film with so much buzz around it is so slow to come to UK cinemas, particularly given that it actually won a couple of BAFTAs last weekend – how a film can be eligible for awards when it isn’t even out in the country is beyond me. The other is Ford v Ferrari (or Le Mans ’66 as it was known in the UK) which I sort of wanted to see but just didn’t get around to, I probably would have made more of an effort if I had known it was going to be an Oscar nominee but it never seemed to have that level of buzz about it.

    On some levels it’s an interesting range of films, big spectacle (1917, Ford V Ferrari), intimate drama (Marriage Story), period drama (Little Women), something foreign (Parasite), something controversial (Joker) something undefinable (Jojo Rabbit), and a couple by big names just doing their thing (Martin Scorsese’s Irishman and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood).
    However, those entries are only ‘diverse’ if you’re considering films that are considered dramas. The point of expanding the nominees list was supposed to open it up for a broader range of films but it feels like it’s failed this year. Even just comparing to last year, mainstream films Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born, and superhero film Black Panther were nominated while this year’s similar and superior offerings of Rocketman and Avengers Endgame were completely ignored. Was Black Panther nominated because it was a good film (which it really really was) or because it shocked the Hollywood elite by showing a mainstream film made and starring black people could be a success. Because in 2018 that was apparently something that needed to be proved. I believe Black Panther earned a nomination because it was a really great film, but nominating a ‘token’ superhero film one year is no better than nominating a ‘token’ black actor or female director (I’ll rant more about that in my next post) just to shut up critics and then reverting to blinkers the following year. I think Rocketman with it’s perfect blend of fascinating story, insightful writing, stunning acting and beautiful direction not only should have been nominated, but that it should possibly have won.

    So looking at the actual nominees, of the 7 films that I’ve seen, the two I don’t feel belong on this list are the two by the Names. I thought The Irishman was actively bad – completely lacking in any depth of character or plot, unforgivable given the length). Once Upon A Time in Hollywood wasn’t as complete a write off, but it was still a jumbled collection of good ideas for very different films that Tarantino just meandered between. Neither director has any self-control with editing or run times and both films committed the terminal sin of long periods where I was bored. The third film I really struggle with on this list is Jojo Rabbit which I didn’t feel delivered the tone it needed to, which makes me sad rather than angry, and I’m willing to concede that I may be wrong in my feelings on it and was just expecting something different given the trailer.

    That leaves four films for me to chose between and while they are all incredibly good films, I think the one that is the best package is Marriage Story. It manages to blend all the big elements of film making – writing, acting, directing together to produce an intimate film that’s beautiful and brutal. The other three films are all superb, but each excels in one area of film making maybe over and above the others – Joker has a stunning performance at its heart, Little Women is a truly wonderful adapted screenplay making a classic completely relevant without losing the heart of the original, and 1917 is one of the most impressive directorial achievements in decades, but lacks a little on the story front. Marriage Story was the only film that I was absolutely gripped by the whole time, even though I watched it at home via Netflix; all the other films at some point I dropped out of the immersion to think about the film making itself.

    My full reviews are below. I’ll post my full list of picks for the awards at the weekend.
    Continue reading “Oscars: Best Films of 2019”

    Films in January 2020

    Welcome to January. In the world of film that usually means a flood of very worthy films that are vying for awards. This year it seems it’s more a race of weirdness and also for me, rummaging around Netflix where there are some really interesting documentaries hiding.

    New Releases
    1917
    This is an incredible cinematic achievement. The film is made up of a series of incredibly long takes (apparently up to 10 mins long each) and is blended together so that it seems like just two continuous shots. We follow a mission given to two young (but jaded) soldiers charged with a terrifying but critical mission to deliver a message. The shooting style isn’t just a gimmick it’s a tool to make the audience completely part of the experience, and the intensity of it is all part of the film. What surprised me was that it didn’t feel like the film makers really made many concessions to the style, the film still has massive action sequences, complex camera moves, complicated lighting and moments of intense acting. The beauty and the scale took my breath away on multiple occasions and with so many “tricks of the trade” not available it made even the simplest of shots so much more impressive.
    I will say, that without this incredible way of filming, I don’t think the film would have been anywhere near as remarkable, in fact I think the film making did limit some aspects. The concept is of course strong, and any film that presents the reality of war has something worth listening to, but I think overall there was probably not enough depth to characters or situations. The filming style would have made it very hard to get this depth, the actors did an impressive job in what must have been incredibly challenging circumstances, but I did find a couple of the characters a little too closed off, a avoiding the depth of emotion that it would be hard to reach in the middle of a ten minute take, and impossible to edit for. Ordinarily there would be dozens of options for every single second, but here I’m sure there were brilliant moments of performance that had to be thrown away because of a miss-firing effect or stumble of a cameraman. That the output is so good even with those constraints is incredible, but it does make the focus of the film that style rather than the other components. I’m not complaining, it’s made something unusual and still an incredibly good piece of cinema.

    The Personal History of David Copperfield
    I did not get on with this film. Other reviewers have described it as delightful and hilarious, but although I was desperate for some quirky fun, I just couldn’t get into it. Although I’m not familiar with David Copperfield, I’m usually a big fan of Armando Iannucci’s humour, either through outright satire in The Thick of It, or jaw dropping insanity in The Death of Stalin, but here I found it was neither whimsical enough nor biting enough. It just felt a bit jumbled, scenes being shared by people who are playing up the dry wit and drama alongside those playing pantomime caricatures. Dev Patel is to be commended for managing to deliver every aspect of the film with charm and energy, and I was happy to see a bright and colourful Dickensian world for a change, but I found the rest of it a little insufferable I’m afraid.

    Jojo Rabbit
    Another film I’d been looking forward to and ended up disappointed. The concept and tone of the trailer were intriguing – a young boy growing up in Nazi Germany, with Hitler as an imaginary friend. But the quirky comedy of the trailer was too thinly striped through the main film, with much of it having a more thoughtful and serious tone before suddenly remembering it was also supposed to be satirical and funny. It’s an odd thing to say, but it actually needed more Hitler as he was the comedy relief who really nailed the satire of the piece; Sam Rockwell also did an admirable job here and could have been on screen more. It had great ideas, solid cast, nice design (just as in David Copperfield I liked the brightness of it, rather than the cliche dreary colour scheme), and some really great scenes, but it was fighting itself and just didn’t quite come together.

    A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
    The name Fred Rogers won’t mean much to UK audiences, but to Americans he’s an absolute institution that many of them will have watched on tv as young children. For me, I may not have that sort of connection to the subject of the film, but I do have the same fondness for Tom Hanks who is playing him, so I was really looking forward to this film. To build on that the film also starred Matthew Rhys who I’ve loved since Brothers and Sisters and recently excelled in The Americans. The film itself is a bit odd, Mr Rogers is a slightly other-worldly character, and the film plays that up with some surreal sections and even breaking the fourth wall. But offsetting that Rhys’ character is based firmly in a quite difficult reality. Both leads are excellent and somehow manage to connect the different tones elegantly. It did miss a few opportunities to delve deeper into understanding Mr Rogers the person vs Mr Rogers the character, but I went in wanting something engaging and comforting and it completely delivered.

    Edge of Democracy
    An Oscar nominated documentary that I would never have watched if it hadn’t been nominated (and available on Netflix). On the very positive side I have learnt some stuff about Brazilian politics, but it is the kind of learning that I then feel I need to double check. The documentary maker has a very personal connection to the story which she is open about, but immediately made me nervous about the fairness of her documentary as an educational piece. I was also frustrated with the tone and style which was a little simpering and arty for me, verging on poetry when I just wanted facts and simplicity. Unfortunately it felt like an effort to get through to the end and although it gave me an introduction to an incredibly messed up political situation that the world should probably be more engaged in, I didn’t feel confident that I’d fully understood, or been shown, the whole story.

    The American Factory
    I thought this was an absolutely fascinating documentary. It has incredible access to a closed down car factory in Ohio that is re-opened by a Chinese company, highlighting the completely different ways of working that the two countries have with management styles, work culture, safety, pay, and work/life balance. A lot of people share their points of view through interviews, voice over and being filmed at work and home. It is fascinating to see how, although the workers are all keen to work and learn together to make this business work, they are literally and figuratively speaking completely different languages. It’s only really “let down” by the senior management who do come across rather pantomime, not actually trying to adapt and respect the different cultures to truly merge them together and therefore driving everyone towards confrontation. It’s particularly interesting to watch being neither American, nor Chinese and therefore not coming from an assumed position with the other side is “foreign”. The film makers (led by two Americans, but supported by Chinese film-makers) keep a refreshing tone of respect and open-mindedness. Although I do think it comes across a bit western biased, I think it is actually more that it’s biased against the management layer, most of whom are Chinese. This documentary has really stayed with me and I highly recommend it.

    Klaus
    What a shame I didn’t watch this at Christmas! I’d dismissed it as a cheap kid’s animation to cash in on Christmas and only bothered to add it to my watchlist when it was nominated for an Oscar. The opening scenes didn’t grab me, introducing a spoiled and lazy heir to a postal service, whose father gives him one last chance and sends him to the far North as postman to an island occupied by two clans in perpetual conflict. Once we reach the island, the film really starts to shine. It’s clearly a fairy tale, but in the best tradition it has plenty of darkness running through it. The script has a perfect amount of bite to offset the soft centre, so it never becomes too sickly. It reminded me a lot of The Nightmare Before Christmas, but it’s got a style all to itself. It was thoroughly entertaining to watch, beautiful to look at and a perfect addition to the regular Christmas catalog.

    Hail Satan
    I’m on a run of watching documentary films at the moment, and this falls rather on the innocuous end of the spectrum. I did feel that I learnt some stuff, but at the same time didn’t really feel transformed. Most of the film is spent following the leaders of a growing community of Satanist churches and completely focused on the political aspects of their movement challenging the perception that America is (or should be) a Christian country. The documentary is completely focused on this aspect of Satanism and the people featured come across as thoughtful, open minded and considerate. It’s all told from their point of view, with a couple of short sections on the history of Satanism. The people on the other side of their campaigns aren’t entirely voiceless as there are clips from the news and counter-protests, but these are clearly selected for contrast. I got the distinct feeling there was a bit more going on out in the wider network of churches (as is alluded to briefly) but frustratingly that’s not really explored. Still, it’s an entertaining documentary and gives voice to a group of people that you may not have encountered so it’s definitely worth a watch.

    Hellboy
    Good grief, what a mess. The original Hellboy films were also a mess, but at least they were a fun mess. This one is just a muddle. It felt like they couldn’t decide whether they were going to go for a fun 12A film, or a Deadpool-esque 18 rated grown up film. So they’ve ended up with something that’s too dark and bitter to be a fun action film; but doesn’t have enough bite and anger to really feel like it’s grown up. The plot makes no sense (not that the original did either) and the actors felt a little televisual, not really throwing themselves into it with the energy it needed. What a waste.

    Rocketman
    One of the cleverest tricks Lee Hall the writer has done is to frame the biography as Elton’s own telling of his story. This is a bit of a get out of jail free card for any over-simplification of people or events or any overly “on the nose” dialogue; that’s just how he remembers it and presents it. Elton John doesn’t come across as a saint by any means, but it is still a one sided story with most of the supporting characters coming across as rather one-dimensional (particularly the ‘villains’ of the piece). But while that frustrated me hugely with Bohemian Rhapsody (lesson – managers are all terrible), it was absolutely fine here because it was all framed as Elton’s point of view. The only other rich character was the lyricist Bernie Taupin, who I didn’t know anything about and was played with beautiful understatement by Jamie Bell. Their relationship was just another of the points of joy of the film.
    None of this would have worked without the breath-taking performance of Taron Egerton. He sings, he dances, he struts, he melts down and he does that thing that I just can’t even fathom – plays a character who’s playing a character, continually trying to present a different persona to the world and losing track of who is real.
    The word that I keep thinking of is ‘joy’. That may be a bit odd, because there’s a lot of heartbreak and darkness in Elton’s life and this film doesn’t shy away from that. But there’s a thread of joy running through it that never gets lost – Elton and Bernie love music, love creating it together and love the performance; and the audiences (both within the film and watching the film) love their music. I dare anyone to think of Crocodile Rock, or Pinball Wizard or Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting and not grin.

    Films I Saw in 2019

    By the numbers
    I saw 201 films in 2019, that’s pleasingly over 200 and a long way up on last year’s 167, but frustratingly slightly short of my record of 206 films in 2016. Of those, 127 were films that were new to me, so that’s nearly 2/3 new and 1/3 comfort repeat viewings which is a pretty healthy ratio I think.

    I only saw 23 films at the cinema this year (11%), a long way down from 39 (22%) last year. I just don’t think there were as many films that I felt like going out for, less big blockbusters and spectaculars that felt like they had to be seen on the big screen. The number of films on both Netflix and Amazon were higher (59/29% and 55/27% respectively). Netflix in particular had some very good and varied original releases, although I’m not sure there were any that I would have gone to the cinema to see. I had a fair number of film days at home (frequently accompanied by either lego or a jigsaw, my stress reliefs of choice). Those were often days of comfort films that I know are good, or a little more risk taking with films renowned as classics (rightly or wrongly) or complete left-field choices when I get bored surfing too far in Netflix/Amazon lists.

    43 of the films I watched were released this year, 21% of all watches, and another 32 from last year to make 37% of all my viewing new-ish films (I go by UK release date, so some of the 2019 releases would have been 2018 films in the US). That’s substantially less in both number and percentage than last year, even though many more new releases are available through streaming services. It just didn’t feel there were as many films to get excited about. I wasn’t going out of my way to catch up on classics, so I’m ok with the fact that only 28% of the films were more than ten years old.

    Top films of 2019
    The more I look at the list of 2019 films, the less enthusiastic I am about the year for film overall, there were far fewer films that I wanted to see enough to go to the cinema for and the one’s that I did see, or catch up on via streaming services were mostly either ‘fine’, or had bits of greatness undermined by flaws. I’ve broadly labelled 15 as good (35%), 5 as bad (12%) and the rest somewhere in the middle. For comparison, last year 39% of the films I watched were ‘good’, but the same percentage (12%) were bad. So it’s just that films this year were slightly more likely to be ‘ok’ rather than great. However I’ve managed to pull together a top 10 I’m happy with, even if anything much more than 10 would have been a challenge.

    1) Avengers: Endgame – For me, the film of the year, the one that I had been counting down to with equal parts excitement and dread, and I was hugely relieved that after 21 films, Marvel and the Russo Brothers completely stuck the landing with a blockbuster experience of epic proportions, grounded by beautiful characters and heartbreaking emotions. Whatever the nit-picky flaws, this film and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole is a truly stunning cinematic achievement.

    2) Rocketman – From a purer point of view, for me the best film of the year was Rocketman. After the entertaining mess of Bohemian Rhapsody last year, I had low expectations of the Elton John biopic and I was completely overwhelmed by this beautiful film. It felt like a true and open account of the life of a human being – with all the joy and heartache, complexity and simplicity that is true of any individual’s life. The use of his music is perfectly integrated to make it a true musical film, and Taron Egerton is for me, the standout performance of the year.

    3) Marriage Story – The story of a family struggling through divorce may not appeal when you’re skimming the endless options on Netflix, but it’s an absolute masterclass of writing and acting, both with an intense truthfulness that is really remarkable. It’s a film that hits hard and then really stays with you.

    4) The Favourite – After careful checking I can include this as it was released on 1st January 2019 in the UK. On paper it probably shouldn’t work, it’s all over the place in tone, but it somehow it all comes together in a weird and wonderful way. The three leads are all fantastic, riding the waves of different tones with grace and power.

    5) Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon – charming, funny, beautiful and creative, another masterclass from Aardman that works across all the generations and is a particular treat for sci-fi fans. It was pure joy, in a year when many of the most anticipated animations chose to push very different emotions.

    6) Downton Abbey – took a TV staple to the big screen without getting carried away and trying to do anything too drastically different; so it was just as charming, easy going, and daft, and as much fun in a cinema with a big crowd as it was on a Sunday night on the sofa.

    7) Little Women (2019) – Greta Gerwig took my favourite book and did something faithful, creative, current and loving with it. Personally I wasn’t completely sold on the inter-weaving timelines, but I really respected the care that it was done with and the additional layers it added.

    8) Pokemon Detective Pikachu – a chaotic blend of classic noir detective with a bonkers universe of magic critters that shouldn’t work but really really does, even if you can’t tell your Charizard from your Psyduck (and yes, even after seeing the film twice now, I still had to look those names up).

    9) Joker – I put off watching this for a long time and eventually gave into the hype and was still surprised and impressed by it. Regardless of controversy, or how it fits in with the DC universe it is still a fascinating film with an incredible performance from Joaquin Phoenix.

    10) The Two Popes – A surprisingly engrossing film just full of conversations between two old men, who just happen to be the current and future pope and played by two acting legends. I was completely gripped in a way that some of the most adrenaline fueled action films haven’t managed. This is exactly the kind of thing I never imagined Netflix producing.

    Worst film of the year, or maybe just my most controversial opinion of the year, was The Irishman, over-indulgent and boring, edit 90 minutes out and it would have made it up into middling, but even if it were 2 hours it would still have been boring, at 3.5 hrs it was interminable (and even at that length there still wasn’t apparently space for a meaningful female character). The other really bad films of the year are probably ones that no one will have heard of anyway – Unicorn Store (presented as a charming story of a young woman who loves unicorns, comes across as a woman with mental health problems who’s not getting the support she needs), Velvet Buzzsaw (all over the place) and Vox Lux (nice idea very badly done).

    Animation – 25 films (12%), including 10 Disney films

    • Best of 2019 – Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon, a true masterclass in how to convey humour and emotion through wordless Plasticine.
    • Best of recent years – the brilliantly original Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (even if some of the animation made me feel a little motion sick).
    • Classic – slightly pointedly I’m going to pick the original animated The Lion King, I watched this instead of going to the cinema for the new one and didn’t see any need to bother going out. For non-Disney The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! or Coraline
    • To be avoided – Loving Vincent, maybe don’t avoid it completely and just watch 5 minutes, because the animation is INCREDIBLE, each frame literally an oil painting. BUT it doesn’t turn into a film, the voices are completely dissociated and I actually physically couldn’t watch and listen at the same time. Also Missing Link unfortunately which I found flat, simplistic and incredibly unremarkable which was hugely disappointing from the usually wonderful Laika studios.

    A trend that I’ve spotted in children’s animations stopped me completely loving two of the big animated releases of the year – Toy Story 4 and How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World (and Frozen 2 skirts near the issue too). Trying to be vague on spoilers, they end their franchises on a decisive goodbye that left me heartbroken. It wasn’t that the outcomes were ‘wrong’ for the stories that had been told, it’s just that it didn’t seem like the writers had to take the stories in that direction and could have given the audience a “and they all continued to have adventures and lived happily ever after” ending. I don’t watch kids’ films for gritty realism, I don’t want to leave the cinema in floods of tears that mean I can’t re-watch the earlier films without knowing the sadness is coming.

    Documentaries – 7 films (3.5%)

    • Best of 2019- Fyre is on the entertaining end of the documentary style, but beneath the insane personalities there is some fascinating business psychology that really spoke to me as a project manager.
    • Best of recent years – a tie of two from 2018 Free Solo and McQueen are both fascinating character studies, both incredibly tense and affecting although for different reasons.
    • Classic – Catfish has some questionable legitimacy but a surprisingly touching conclusion and is undeniably important.
    • To be avoided – I wouldn’t say avoid it necessarily, but approach The Great Hack with caution as I found it kept sidestepping the really interesting points to tell a sensational version of the story.

    SF / Fantasy / Horror – 28 films (14%)

    • Best of 2019 – Pokemon Detective Pikachu, or if you want a purer SF, I Am Mother. It felt like there was a bit of a gap in the big releases here, although I should highlight that I haven’t seen Star Wars. Maybe the studios were avoiding clashing with Avengers and maybe even Game of Thrones on TV.
    • Best of recent years – Snowpiercer which did classic SF concepts very well.
    • Classic – Close Encounters of the Third Kind – 40 years on and this film still feels incredibly vibrant and relevant.
    • To be avoided – The Mummy – a truly rubbish plot and Tom Cruise at his most irritating. Also The Wandering Earth (Liu lang di qiu) and Geostorm which were both messes.

    Superheroes – 28 films (14%)

    • Best of 2019 – Avengers: Endgame – duh
    • Best of recent years – as I’ve already called out Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in the animation category, I’ll go with X-Men: Days of Future Past just to call out something that isn’t in the MCU.
    • Classic – Iron Man where it all started in 2008 (which is pretty classic as this genre goes), it was a great film then, and as the foundation of an empire, it still holds up really well. I watched all 21 of the MCU films in order and went on about it at length and ranked them from best to worst if you want to see where they all rank.
    • To be avoided – Justice League was a disastrous mess of a film and Ghost Rider wins the award for worst film that I saw in 2019.

    Comedies – 38 films (19%) that I think were predominantly meant to be funny

    • Best of 2019 – The Favourite. I know many people wouldn’t consider it a comedy, but in the end I classed it as a comedy because I remember laughing out loud more than in any other film, despite there also being some heartbreaking moments and a lot of intense drama.
    • Best of recent years – Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – this had no right to be anywhere near as funny or as engaging as it was, managing to do three difficult genres really well – high school, body swap AND video games
    • Classic – Life of Brian which I hadn’t seen in years, but still manages to be hilarious and surprisingly cutting
    • To be avoided – Cafe Society was Woody Allen at his noodling worst and The World’s End was a very disappointing end to the otherwise brilliant Cornetto Trilogy.

    Musicals – 7 films (3.5%)

    • Best of 2019 – Rocketman, the songs are completely, and beautifully integrated with the narrative making it a true musical, rather than just a film with music in it.
    • Best of recent years – Mary Poppins Returns can be loved just as much as the original. Phew.
    • Classic – The Muppet Christmas Carol of course. With an honourable mention to Dreamgirls because Muppets is basically going to monopolise this category forever.
    • To be avoided – this may be controversial but I couldn’t stand Guys and Dolls – it was too long and lacked enough substance. Also I’d exercise caution with Richard Curtis’ love letter to The Beatles, Yesterday, it left me really uncertain whether it was a lovely feel good film, or contrived, confused and sexist.

    Films not in the English Language – 8 films (4%)

    • Best of 2019 – Den skyldige (The Guilty) a very tightly put together thriller. (I know most people would put The Farewell but I was spoiled by the hype and ended up disappointing that it wasn’t as funny or as emotional as I’d expected.
    • Best of the rest – to be honest, nothing that I would bother calling out. Normally the foreign language films are self selecting as really good because otherwise we’d never hear of them, but this year has been disappointing, even with only a very small number.

    [This is where I run out of well defined genres and broadly split the ‘rest’ of the films into either “films that are supposed to be entertaining” or “films that are supposed to be dramatic”. Which is a pretty fuzzy distinction, but it’s the best I’ve got at this point.]

    Entertaining films – 26 films (12%) – action, romances, murder mysteries and the like

    • Best of 2019 – Downton Abbey by an easy margin and Knives Out as a runner up.
    • Best of recent years – as it’s such a broad category I’ll pick four very different films: Paddington 2 is just plain lovely and is only in this group because there weren’t enough films to make up a non-animated kids category. This is Where I Leave You is a lovely family comedy/drama. American Animals is an entertaining heist film that comes close to doing something special, and Atomic Blonde is an absolutely stunning action thriller.
    • Classic – And four more picks here, although none of them are what I’d really think of as old – Up in the Air because the trio at the heart are wonderful, US Marshals because Tommy Lee Jones is great and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Layer Cake because they are both still slick.
    • To be avoided – How to Talk to Girls at Parties was just too weird and muddled for me, maybe I was missing something. Murder by Numbers badly written, badly directed, even badly blue-screened; even Sandra Bullock and Ryan Gosling couldn’t save it.

    Dramas – 41 films (20%), sorry this really is basically “and the rest”

    • Best of 2019 – Marriage Story – heart-achingly real and truthful about awful situations
    • Best of recent years – Tully – a beautiful film, stunningly well observed and delicately written and directed. Charlize Theron is astonishing, particularly given her incredibly different and no less stunning performance in the previously mentioned Atomic Blonde.
    • Classic – Tinker Tailor Sodier Spy – perfectly judged to be complex and twisty but not completely overwhelming
    • To be avoided – The Squid and the Whale – a noodle-y storyline that didn’t go anywhere and took forever to get there

    Full list (2019 films in bold)
    Continue reading “Films I Saw in 2019”