Luca (Review)

luca-1200

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Enrico Casarosa
Starring: (voices of) Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan 
Certificate: PG
Run Time: 95 mins

Luca is the latest from Disney Pixar and like Soul before it, faced delays to its theatrical release before releasing on Disney+, which sparked controversy within the team. Set on the Italian Rivera, Luca is a young sea monster who lives with his over-protective parents, who warn him of the perils of the human world. Luca spends his days supervising a flock of fish (who behave and bleat like sheep) and clearly is longing for more purpose and excitement in his life. The set-up is essentially The Good Dinosaur under the sea. Luca meets a fellow sea monster named Alberto, who is seemingly care-free and adventurous and leads Luca out of the sea, where both assume human form once dry, literally ‘fish out of water’. They work up the courage to discover the port town of Portorosso, where they make friends with a young Italian female misfit named Giulia and attempt to compete in a the town’s traditional triathlon (swimming, cycling and eating pasta of course!), whilst Luca evades his parents who are searching for him.

Luca is a sweet and amiable film that is much smaller in scope and scale compared to some of Pixar’s other offerings. Although decidedly more suitable for children, Luca’s aesthetic cries of Call Me By Your Name combined with The Little Mermaid, director Enrico Casarosa (in his debut feature after assisting as a storyboard artist on previous Pixar films) drawing inspiration from his childhood in his vivid imagining of the sunblushed Italian coast. The central trio of Luca, Alberto and Giulia are very well developed and there are some humorous supporting characters. Luca’s Grandmother does not share the same world view as his parents, knowing from experience that breaking some rules in life is a part of growing up and Sacha Baron Cohen shows up in a very brief role as Luca’s unhygienic Uncle Ugo, who resides in the deep sea, where Luca’s parents threaten to send him to live if he fails to stop rebelling.

Luca is a significantly more gentle film compared to other Pixar entries and tackles less heady and existential themes. There isn’t a standout emotional sequence that reduces the audience to tears, which is customary for many of Pixar’s films. Whilst Luca is engaging and entertaining in the moment, this is not a film that has the lasting and endearing quality that Pixar’s top tier offerings have.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Review)

c3tdmmdi

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Michael Chaves
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruari O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, John Noble, Eugenie Bondurant
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 112 mins

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the third entry in the mainline series but the eighth entry in its respective cinematic universe. The films have all varied in quality, with highlights such as the two Conjuring films and Annabelle: Creation to complete misfires such as Annabelle and The Nun. The mainline films though are yet to faulter and are generally considered the benchmark in quality for the franchise and follow paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren’s cases. This entry is set in 1981 in Connecticut, following the murder trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson who murdered his landlord and defended his innocence on the grounds of demonic possession.

This sequel is the first Conjuring film to not have James Wan in the director’s chair. Wan has cemented himself as one of the leading voices of the genre with his success in establishing this series with his two entries and he is also responsible for other franchises in the horror genre such as Saw and Insidious, as well as recently directing Aquaman. The Conjuring is Wan’s best feature, near perfect in its construction and is one of the best horror films of the century. Naturally, there is trepidation when he is not in the director’s chair (although he does remain in a producer and story capacity) and he has cherry-picked Michael Chaves to direct this entry. Chaves is not new to this franchise, having previously directed The Curse of La Llorona, which is a middle-of-the-road entry. Can Chaves deliver another stellar instalment in the franchise?

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It represents a welcome change of direction compared to the first two films in that it delves from the haunted house formula and is more of a police procedural crime thriller. The story the film is based on is riveting, even if some creative liberties have been taken with it for it to fit the horror genre. The performances are all excellent, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warren’s again are the centrepiece of the franchise and the film expands and revolves around their strong relationship. The rest of the cast are also strong, although they are underused and this is very much Farmiga and Wilson’s film. Ruairi O’Connor is excellent as the murder convict and it was surprising to see John Noble, of Lord of the Rings fame, appear here in a small but pivotal role, who performs sparingly.

Chaves’ direction attempts to ape Wan’s from the use of title cards and a prologue sequence at the beginning to the general tone of the film. However, when it comes to the horror aspect of the film, Chaves just does not craft the scares in as sophisticated a fashion as Wan. Wan’s scares are very creative and he is terrific at the build up. One of the best scares in The Conjuring is when a child can see a figure standing behind a door whilst her sister cannot see the figure but the door is shrouded in darkness so as an audience, we cannot quite make out what is accurate. Every scare Wan crafts is earned and he doesn’t resort to cheap tricks with false moments, which is unfortunately Chaves’ style. Although this is a horror franchise, in some ways, it would have been better if the film were completely bereft of scares as the film doesn’t need it, as its statement of intent is to be a crime thriller. The scares feel tacked on and unearned and there is nothing remotely terrifying about what we witness on screen. Of all the films in the franchise, this is probably the least scary instalment. What the film does do well is wear its graceful homages to other horror films on its sleeve and there is more than a cheeky nod to The Exorcist in the opening prologue and there is a waterbed sequence reminiscent of A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.

The film also feels rather short, for its sprawling narrative. The film could easily have been another half an hour longer to really develop its characters so that we could better connect with them and it would have been really interesting to see Chaves tap more into the legal aspect of the case, which he hints at early on in the film but then chooses to abandon it. The story is that riveting to warrant the extra time.

Ultimately, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is another strong entry in the franchise, but its success lies on its performances and shake-up of the haunted house formula into a crime thriller. I was riveted from start to finish but there is always the question of what if this film had been directed by James Wan and I think if had, the result here would have been extraordinary. If the film doubled down on its scares or chose to eliminate them completely and spent longer developing its characters and establishing the stakes, this could have been a masterpiece. As it stands, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is very strong in some areas but flawed in others.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Army Of The Dead (Review)

ARMY OF THE DEAD

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Anezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Huma Qureshi, Garret Dillahunt 
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 148 mins

Army of the Dead, visionary director Zack Snyder’s first film post-DC, is a total blast from start to finish. Snyder is no stranger to the zombie thriller genre as his first film was Dawn of the Dead, a very solid remake of George A. Romero’s original. This is not connected to Dawn but does take some inspiration from other Romero works. Army of the Dead follows a group of ragtag soldiers, led by Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward, into the quarantine zone of Las Vegas to retrieve $200 million dollars from a casino vault. The catch is that Las Vegas is swarming with zombies and the government are planning on blowing the city up to eradicate the zombie population. There are two different types of zombies – ‘Alphas’ and ‘Shamblers’. ‘Alphas’ are a more intelligent breed of zombie whereas ‘Shamblers’ are your run-of-the-mill classic zombies.

Snyder crafts a fascinating world here and there is some interesting political sub-text. Ethical questions are posed that draw parallels to the current American political climate and treatment of migrants. We are introduced to a diverse set of characters that are going to carry out the heist operation. Whilst the character tropes are fairly conventional and some characters aren’t really fleshed out, this is a zombie film after all and it’s inevitable that some of the cast are only introduced to die.

Dave Bautista makes for an excellent lead as an ex-mercenary who is now a chef, who is pulled back into action when Hiroyuki Sanada’s rather shady billionaire show up at his work to entice him into the job. Of the sizeable team, Ana de la Regruera, Nora Arnezeder and Matthias Schweighöfer make the best impression. Regruera plays a friend of Scott who is a mechanic, who helps to put a team together and Arnezeder plays Lily, a Frenchwoman who acts as the group’s guide into Las Vegas and who has learnt to understand the mentality of the zombies. Schweighöfer plays Ludwig Dieter, a German safecracker, who gets some of the film’s best lines but also has a lot of heart. A prequel, Army of Thieves, is in production that is to be a follow-up to the film which will follow his character and will be directed by the actor.

The film is a visual treat and Snyder, who acts his own cinematographer for the first time, does a commendable job in building a convincing post-apolocalyptic world that doesn’t feel too far removed from how it is currently. The film is bursting with colour and Snyder leans into the creative kills and gore that earn the film its 18-rating with joyful glee, the opening credits to the film being particularly memorable. He balances this with some suitably dour darker lit sequences that highlight the origins of the Alphas and their leader Zeus, who is particularly well developed as a villain, and fits in perfectly with Snyder’s horror roots.

Army of the Dead is further proof that Snyder works best when he is not restrained by a film studio. We saw proof of that earlier in the year with his director’s cut of Justice League and this unrestrained and giddy experience further cements that he is a talented director. Snyder has received rightly deserved some flack in the past where his stories and characters aren’t always suitably developed and it would be fair to say that as a filmmaker, he struggles to stick to convention. But Army of the Dead isn’t overlong or self-indulgent – this is the perfect length for the story that Snyder has crafted and the film takes its time to create a strong verisimilitude. I cannot wait to see where this material is taken next in a prequel and the film certainly leaves an enticing door open for a sequel. Army of the Dead is one of the best films of the year.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Woman In The Window (Review)

DF-07063_R

⭐ (Terrible)

Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Fred Hechinger, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 100 mins

It’s staggering just how horrifically bad The Woman In The Window is. Adapted by Tracy Letts (who also features in the film) from A.J. Finn’s hit novel, this murder mystery follows agaraphobic child psychologist Anna Fox (Amy Adams) who is separated from her husband (Anthony Mackie) and daughter. Her housebound state leads her to observe her neighbours from her window, one of which is the Russell family who have recently moved in. When Anna witnesses the mother of the family, Jane (Julianne Moore) stabbed to her death, she tries to investigate the murder with the help of the police. However, Anna is also on a cocktail of medication and drinks alcohol daily, so is what he saw accurate and she’s telling the truth or does she not have a firm grip on reality?

Tracy Letts is a gifted playwright and screenwriter, behind works such as Killer Joe and August: Osage County. Joe Wright is in the director’s chair for this, who had an initially very promising career, for example with Atonement and Hanna. More recently though, he has been on rocky ground with Pan, which is one of the worst films of recent years that once seen can’t be unseen. He also directed and received acclaim for Darkest Hour, with Gary Oldman earning an Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in the film. I had some strong reservations with the film and felt that it didn’t have much to offer other than Oldman’s performance and some beautiful cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, who is also behind the camera here. Wright assembles a terrific cast and crew here, which should have been full of promise.

The film has faced delays in making it to the big screen, with the pandemic and has finally been brought by Netflix. If anything, this was promising because the notion of an agaraphobic main character confined to her home for a long period of time should resonate with viewers who have experienced recent lockdowns, essentially a Rear Window for the coronavirus age. But alas, Rear Window, this isn’t. How on earth did it go so wrong?

I lost my patience with the film pretty early in and was hoping that it would pick up once the inciting incident of the murder happened but the film only got worse. I haven’t read the book and it looks like the film makes some minor changes but the story is more or less the same. Joe Wright’s direction is incoherently frenetic, allowing audiences to watch events unfold from the perspective of Anna. As a character, Anna is insufferable and Amy Adams tones up the camp in her peformance. How can audiences sympathise with a character that is genuinely unlikeable and consistently disrespectful of her neighbours?

The rest of the performances in the film are also terrible, with actors talking dramatically and then deciding it’s a good idea to shout, Gary Oldman a prime example. Oldman plays the patriarch of the Russell family, whose wonky American accent constantly slips into English. Wyatt Russell plays Anna’s household tenant, who lives in the basement, who Anna thinks it’s a good idea to go and snoop around his possessions and does so repeatedly after he instructs her not to. Russell’s performance is equally schizophrenic and cannot convey the darker side of his character whatsoever. Brian Tyree Henry, who is normally excellent, is also terrible as a totally unprofessional police detective. A scene at the film’s close is particularly laughable in what actions his character instructs Anna to carry out. Perhaps Jennifer Jason Leigh and Anthony Mackie come out of this experience the best as they are underutilised in the film and fail to make an impression. In fact, it’s generally surprising how little screen time most of the actors have other than Amy Adams and when the mystery is in full swing, there are just no stakes and no care to have for these characters.

After getting through 80 minutes or so, the film reaches its climax where there is a twist ending. The twist is shockingly bad and there are some unintentional laugh-out loud moments in the depiction of a fight sequence at the end of the film. Although I haven’t read the novel, whilst it’s still a poor twist, it probably works better there as the characters are better established.

Tracy Lett’s screenplay is surprisingly terrible and is chiefly to blame for this disaster. Letts may have had a strong career to date but the dialogue here is ear-scrapingly bad in places and lacks character development. His screenplay isn’t particularly cinematic which isn’t in itself a problem, as there are many effective films set in one location. Joe Wright makes a pigs ear of directing the film as he offsets the stage-play quality of the script with flashbacks and cuts from other characters perspectives, as well as riding an uneasy line between a camp and serious tone.

Even visually, the film is lacking. Bruno Delbonnel has crafted some mesmerising images in his career, behind a lot of Coen Brothers films and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Delbonnel fails to establish Anna’s house setting. As it plays such a crucial part to the film’s story, audiences should know the intracacies of it and the layout as the mystery unfolds. It is also lit in an ugly manner. The film has a camp visual aesthetic and its brief moments of gore and violence are laughable and toothless rather than alarming.

The Woman In The Window is an unmitigated failure for all involved and will surely act as a stain in the cast and crew’s career. If you choose to stick with this irritating and annoyingly disorienting film rather than end your suffering early, your curiosity will not be rewarded in the film’s climax. The only saving grace is perhaps it is a good thing this film won’t be shown in cinemas for a paying audience and will stay hidden away in the vaults of Netflix for eternity. The Woman In The Window staggered me in its unrelenting ability to punish its audience throughout and is one of the worst experiences I have had in quite some time.

⭐ (Terrible)

Oxygen (Review)

oxygen

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Alexandre Aja 
Starring: Mélanie Laurent, Mathieu Amalric, Malik Zidi 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 101 mins

Oxygen is a survival horror film where a woman wakes up in a cryogenic chamber with no recollection of how she got there, who she is and she cannot escape whilst she is running out of air. This is a strong concept that has been done before to near-perfection with Ryan Reynolds’ Buried. Buried was excellent in how it developed Reynolds’ character, the ordeal he had to go through and it didn’t outstay its welcome. The ever-versatile Mélanie Laurent is in the lead role here, most famous for her role in Inglourious Basterds. The film is directed by Alexandre Aja, who is a seasoned hand with horror, with works such as The Hills Have Eyes, the underrated Horns and the alligator invasion disaster film Crawl.

Oxygen makes the most out of its single location and there is a committed performance from Mélanie Laurent. It is handsomely shot by Maxime Alexandre, who conveys the panic-inducing claustrophobia of the suffocating space and the film is well-directed with Aja making the most of the film’s budget. Some of the film’s technical, more showy moments are impressive for a film of this stature.

Unfortunately, Oxygen runs into trouble in the second half. It is a good 20-30 mins overlong for its story and the antics Laurent has to go through begin to wear thin and are repetitive. Its final act is also very disappointing and the narrative choices felt like a cop-out. Buried wildly succeeded in its simplicity but Aja overcomplicates matters here and delves down a rabbit hole. It is understandable that Aja wanted to lean more heavily into sci-fi but it costs the film its promising build up.

Oxygen is ultimately one of the better efforts of a survival horror in one location but the good work of its first act fails to pay off with its poor narrative choices later in the film and it outstays its welcome. It’s a valiant effort and a back-to-basics approach for Aja but the second half disappoints in its failure to pay off the promising first half.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Nomadland (Review)

nomadland

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Chloé Zhao
Starring: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 109 mins

Nomadland is an original and unassuming exploration into the nomadic lifestyle that a proportion of Americans take where they cannot afford to live by conventional means in a bricks and mortar dwelling. In what is director Chloe Zhao’s third feature, Nomadland paints a desperate situation where hard-working Americans cannot afford to live in a normal society. We follow Frances McDormand’s widowed and unemployed Fern. She describes herself as ‘houseless’ and chooses to travel the US, partaking in various job opportunities, living from her van. These jobs range from a stint in Amazon to working in hot and sweaty kitchens to running a spa. We meet some real-life nomads that her character crosses paths with along the way, as well as a blossoming relationship with another nomad played by David Strathairn.

The performances are first-rate in the film, with Frances McDormand winning her third Best Actress Oscar for this role. McDormand is brilliant here but she could play this type of role in her sleep – it doesn’t rate with the quality of her other two wins in Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Of the other characters, it is Charlene Swankie (as Swankie!) who makes the biggest impression in the film’s best sequence where she recounts her life choices and philosophies. Technically, Nomadland is excellent as well with Joshua James Richard’s Terence Malick-esque cinematography beautifully capturing the vast open landscapes and offering a magical quality. Ludovico Einaudi’s piano-based score is sparsely used but packs a punch when it is featured.

With the Awards success Nomadland has received, not least a Best Picture Oscar win, it’s easy to go into the film with lofty expectations. Nomadland is not perfect, by any means. Save for Swankie’s affecting monologue, the film never really packs enough of an emotional wallop and there are sequences in the film that are languorously paced. Nomadland is a strong and original film that blends fact and fiction seamlessly with some amiable performances, even if it is somewhat overrated.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Without Remorse (Review)

 

5f2c17e7b0cb090bd5bfc20dc816a07b1a9ecde2dd407533a299667940ffe08f._SX1080_.png-2

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Stefano Sollima
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Luke Mitchell, Jack Kesy, Brett Gelman, Lauren London, Colman Domingo, Guy Pearce 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 109 mins

Without Remorse is the long-awaited adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel and refreshingly follows the character of John Clark, a US Navy SEAL rather than Jack Ryan in previous films, but Clark is also very much a shadow recruit. This adaptation has been through a raft of various cast and crew throughout the years such as Keanu Reeves and Tom Hardy. Ultimately, what has arrived on screens settles on the ever-versatile Michael B. Jordan as John Clark. In the director’s chair is Stefano Sollima who created a near-masterpiece with Sicario 2: Soldado in its grim and unrelenting atmosphere. Sollima reunites with screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who co-writes the film with Will Staples. Sheridan has gone from strength to strength, responsible for both Sicario films, the heavily Oscar-nominated Hell Or High Water and Wind River and is yet to stumble. Can this promising talent deliver?

Without Remorse excels in its action sequences and dour first half but it suffers with its obvious story and narrative choices in the second half. Sollima and Sheridan do a commendable job of establishing Clark and his blossoming relationship with his pregnant wife but circumstances unfortunately do not allow Clark to spend time with his family. The film does a really good job in getting into the psyche of Clark’s character and Jordan convinces with his dispassionate and vengeful attitude. By the mid-point of the film, there isn’t much hope to hold for the future of Clark. Sollima also succeeded with the tone of the narrative in Sicario 2: Soldado which felt like going into a dark abyss. The action sequences are intelligently crafted and are majestic in spectacle for the budget this film has.

Michael B. Jordan is excellent in the lead role, his character fuelled by rage and grief. There are strong performances across the board, Jamie Bell successful as a shady CIA operative and Jodie Turner-Smith has good chemistry with Jordan. Lauren London also makes a strong impression in her brief role. It’s always good to see Guy Pearce in a film and he chews the scenery here.

The film runs into problems in its second half where it takes some questionable yet obvious narrative choices, which are typical for the genre. The intelligent development of the first half isn’t sustained. What we get is still entertaining but one has to suspend disbelief in the events being portrayed on-screen. Sheridan and Staples’ script isn’t quite as fresh as previous work, as it lacks some of the nuanced character development, opting instead for a faster action pace.

Without Remorse is ultimately above average for this type of action thriller and Sollima succeeds in creating a dark atmosphere for the first half and achieves some assured performances from the cast. I’d be more than on board for any future instalments (the film hints at a Rainbow Six adaptation) as some good groundwork is built here. It doesn’t live up to the lofty standards both Sollima and Sheridan have established in their careers thus far but this is still a solid piece of work and certainly worth a watch.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Sound Of Metal (Review)

e5b234538191e6aacd70563e0cd244643dda3da8bb2e9378f75c2ac53e0ec1e0._SX1080_

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Darius Marder
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Mathieu Amalric 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 120 mins

Sound of Metal is a poignant and original drama about a drummer, Ruben (Riz Ahmed) who loses his hearing and the impact that has on him and his relationship with his partner, Lou (Olivia Cooke). Directed by Darius Marder in his debut after writing The Place Beyond The Pines, this is a touching and at times, fascinating delve into the world of the deaf and how they integrate into society, or in this film’s case, how some form their own isolated community. Riz Ahmed is terrific in the lead role, a desperate and thoroughly down-on-his-luck individual who isn’t taken seriously by society after a stint with drugs.

The film is particularly impressive on a technical level with how it uses sound, from sequences of pure silence to the sounds of what Ruben can hear, a muffled, tinny aura of society. This film more than deserved its Oscar win for its sound and editing.

Unfortunately, Sound of Metal falters in its pacing. The film is languorous in its 130 minute run time and doesn’t delve deep enough into the inner psyche of Ruben’s personality. He is forced into his desperate situation but the film would have really benefitted if we had learnt more about Ruben’s context and character first and it would have had more pathos.

Sound of Metal is an assured first film from director Darius Marder that succeeds more on a technical level and with its central performance rather than substance. The fact that the film received the extent of Awards attention that it did heightened my expectations perhaps too much, as the film underdelivered for me.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Best Films Of 2020 (10-1)

This is the second part of my Best Films of 2020 feature detailing my Top Ten films. Click here to read numbers 20 to 11.

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten films of 2019:

Brody-JojoRabbit

10) Jojo Rabbit 

Director Taika Waititi describes Jojo Rabbit as an ‘anti-hate satire’ which perfectly encapsulates this film. There is a lot to like here and this is another original film from Waititi, who transposes his off-beat brand of humour to Nazi Germany with great results. What is also impressive is how the film takes a darker turn in the second half and there are some particular heartfelt moments, due to the good work in developing the characters. This is one of Scarlett Johannsson’s best performances here as the titular character’s mother. Taika Waititi also shines as Adolf Hitler and Stephen Merchant and Sam Rockwell also turn in strong performances. Hunt for the Wilderpeople remains Waititi’s best film though but it’s good to see his talent recognised here.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

9) The Trial Of The Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is pretty typical Aaron Sorkin, which is a good thing as he spins a gripping yarn from the material. The trial is fascinating, particularly in how Frank Langella’s Judge abuses his power in the court of law. Sorkin powerfully interweaves the talky trial with flashbacks to the event and he masterfully creates tension in the run up to the riot. When the film depicts the event that got the Chicago 7 in hot water, it really earns its moment. The performances are suitably excellent and Sorkin has assembled a terrific cast. The particular standouts are expectedly Sacha Baron Cohen and Frank Langella, the latter is really excellent as the scheming, icy judge. Mark Rylance is also terrific as the lawyer representing the group, who at first is rather reticent but then fights for what he thinks is right. Sorkin has developed well as a director. The problem with Molly’s Game was that its second half couldn’t match its gripping first half but this isn’t the case here. The film suitably progresses and reaches a clear denouement. That said, Sorkin is still yet to match some of the director’s films he wrote in terms of artistic flair. (Full review here)

just-mercy-review-759

8) Just Mercy

Just Mercy is a gripping legal drama about a young and tenacious attorney (Michael B. Jordan) who defends a murder convict (Jamie Foxx) for a crime he didn’t commit. With strong performances by the duo and other members of the cast such as Brie Larson and Tim Blake Nelson, this is an assured and politicially timely piece by director Destin Daniel Cretton, who is next set to direct a Marvel feature, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

eurovision-1

7) Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga

The idea of Will Ferrell fronting a film surrounding Eurovision was preposterous when I first heard of it but this film plays to all his strengths. Ferrell is hilarious as an Icelandic reject, who partners with his child sweetheart played sweetly by Rachel McAdams to audition for the contest. After a fortuitous turn of events, they end up performing for their country. With plenty of brilliant gags and moments, this is perhaps director David Dobkin’s best film as a director, even if the film is slightly overlong. In a year when Eurovision wasn’t broadcast due to the broadcast, the fact that this film exists more than makes up for it.

richard-jewell-film-still-kathy-bates-sam-rockwell-paul-walter-hauser

6) Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell could have been directed in Clint Eastwood’s sleep but this is yet another strong offering from the veteran filmmaker. It tells the fascinating true story of the titular character who is falsely accused of orchestrating a terrorist attack. Paul Walter Hauser is terrific in the lead role, who brilliantly manages to encapsulate the warm but slightly eccentric side of the character.

2854

5) Soul

Soul is another winning original creation from Pixar and after a slightly shaky opening act on first viewing, finds its footing and often soars. Pixar stalwart Pete Docter skilfully interrogates existential themes of what it means to be alive and all the emotions associated with it including anxiety and depression. This is a far more adult film than some of Pixar’s other offerings but the characters and gags here should still enthrall younger viewings, even if the loftier themes go over their heads. (Full review here)

913592412

4) The Devil All The Time 

The Devil All The Time is a sprawling and epic tale of a young man played by Tom Holland, who appears at different points of his life and how the sinister characters of the post-war backwards town that he lives in intertwine with his life. The story is intricately crafted together and shocking at times. There are some reveals in the third act are particularly satisfying and it is coherently told and interrogates some interesting themes. The cast are all great, with Robert Pattinson and Joel Edgerton the highlights.

Now into the top #3…

Toff_Guys_Day_24_173.ARW

3) The Gentlemen 

The Gentlemen is Guy Ritchie back on form. Since his two brilliant Sherlock Holmes efforts, Ritchie has fallen by the wayside with both The Man From UNCLE and Aladdin failing to impress. King Arthur was more promising in that it retained more of his signature style but it was also flawed. Going in to The Gentlemen with low expectations, this surprised me at multiple points. The cast are all brilliant and the script is razor sharp, deftly balancing its adult, violent and drug-fuelled content with a degree of silliness.

invisibleman1.0

2) The Invisible Man 

Writer director Leigh Whannell continues to go from strength to strength in his directorial career. After impressing with both Insidious: Chapter 3 and Upgrade, The Invisible Man is more in line with his second offering and is a giddy mix of sci-fi and horror in its execution. Elisabeth Moss is brilliant in the lead role and Whannell keeps the historical story fresh by throwing in some clever twists that subvert expectations. This film is an intelligent blast from start to finish that wildly succeeds in its genre-melding and justifies its existence as a remake, in its comparison to previous iterations.

So the best film of the year is…

parasite-film-review-1140x641

1) Parasite 

Parasite is easily the winner here and it is pretty much perfect. This is a thrilling and rich study by Bong Joon-Ho about two families on opposite sides of the wealth scale. The script is razor-sharp and witty and the story takes some unexpected turns. The film constantly surprises and is consistently gripping. The performances are all brilliant and the film is technically astute. Films really don’t get much better than this.


So there we go, these films were in my opinion the best of 2019. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister

Best Films Of 2020 (20-11)

Although cinema is still in a state of paralysis with the coronavirus pandemic, that’s not to say that 2020 didn’t offer its fair share of film experiences. The year got off to a conventional start with UK cinemas having to close in line with the first lockdown at the end of March. Cinemas then reopened briefly from August before closing again and are still yet to reopen.

2020 has represented a marked change and acceleration in the move to streaming content at home. Netflix and Amazon have continued to grow and have triumphed with their business model in that audiences don’t need to travel to a cinema to view their content and can consume it in the comfort of their own home. Other streaming services have been introduced this year such as Disney+ and Apple TV.

Having had the chance to catch up on some 2020 releases, I can now share my Top 20 Films of the year. I know that I am very late in the game but there were quite a few films I didn’t get to watch in time and felt that it would be a disservice to generate a list that wasn’t truly reflective of the year. Despite many releases being cancelled or moved to future dates when cinemas are planning to reopen, 2020 still delivered a wealth of strong work.

Here I rank numbers 20 to 11. The Top Ten will be detailed in a separate post.

Note

I am following the UK release date calendar from January 1st to December 31st hence why a lot of the Awards films do not feature here and why there are some from what may seem like last year. 

image

20) Escape From Pretoria   

Daniel Radcliffe continues to pick fascinating projects post-Harry Potter and Escape From Pretoria is no exception. Based on the true story of Tim Jenkin and his fellow escapees, the film follows their ingenious method of escaping one of South Africa’s most notorious prisons. Although the ending of the film is known from the film’s start, it doesn’t make the film any less intense and there are some uncomfortably high-ante sequences in this story that tell a fascinating story.

pp_thenewmutants_herobanner_mobile_19999_919235dd

19) The New Mutants 

The New Mutants is a far better film than it has any right to be or as the delays would suggest. The notion of director Josh Boone melding a comic-book film with the horror genre is an interesting decision and whilst the film isn’t particularly scary, there are some unsettling images of some of the team’s greatest fears. The smaller scale works wonders for the film, with Boone successfully establishing and developing its close-knit characters. By the time the film reaches the third act, all of the characters make compelling cases to really care for them. Unfortunately, The New Mutants commits the classic comic-film sin with its last 15 mins as it descends into a bit of a CGI-fest but it’s relatively short-lived. It does undo the sense of intrigue somewhat but it needs to integrate into the genre somehow, I suppose. However, for the most part, this is a really solid piece of work and it’s a shame that it is unlikely to be explored further in future installments. (Full review here)

1329719_unhinged2_98246

18) Unhinged

Unhinged is surprisingly far better than this type of film ought to be and it goes surprisingly far in terms of its violence and subject matter. Directed by Derrick Borte, it tells the story of Rachel, a young, recently divorced mother who is terrorised by Tom Cooper, a mentally deranged stranger, after a road rage incident between the two. Rachel is sent to hell and back with Tom’s torment and he is unrelenting in dishing out his revenge, satisfying his moral righteousness and ethic high ground. Both Russell Crowe and the underrated Caren Pistorius are excellent in the lead roles, Crowe suitably revelling in the role. It is great to see Caren Pistorius in a lead role, after she impressed in Slow West back in 2014 and has only really taken smaller supporting roles since then. She is more than up for the challenge and the film develops her character very well at the start so that when the inciting incident of her meeting Crowe’s character occurs, as an audience we can more than empathise with her life situation. (Full review here)

Merry-Go-Round AKA Tenet

17) Tenet

Christopher Nolan’s latest represents the director’s strengths in his jaw-dropping visual effects and high-stakes sequences. Nolan has crafted a high-concept storyline that packs plenty of twists and the film requires multiple viewings to truly unpack. Although it’s good to see Nolan’s film feature in this list, this isn’t his strongest piece of work. The third act falters in some of its logic and it is overly expository. The characters also aren’t particularly well-developed, but the film makes up for these flaws in its spectacle and ambition.

MV5BYmM3MGQyZDEtYTFiMi00MzFiLWE4ODQtY2NiMzMzYzIyZjUxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXZ3ZXNsZXk@._V1_

16) Color Out Of Space

After a convincing career redemption with Mandy, Nicolas Cage builds on that film’s strengths with this similarly psychedelic sci-fi as an ostrich farmer. Yes, you read that correctly. Color Out Of Space is Richard Stanley’s first film in 25 years and he fully embraces the weirdness of H.P. Lovecraft’s invention. When a meteor crashes in Cage’s family garden, all manner of hell is let loose and reality is distorted as the horrors that are unleashed begin to hunt the family and their neighbours. This is a bold visual spectacle that delivers on its ludicrous intention perfectly in how it balances the gravity of the situation with the absurdity.

13uncut-1-superJumbo

15) Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler gives the performance of his career in Uncut Gems, directed by the Safdie Brothers after their brilliant film Good Time. Sandler plays a jewellery salesman that is also a gambling addict and he gets himself into a gut-wrenching situation. The first half is mesmerising in how the Safdies elevate the tension after Sandler digs himself deeper and deeper into a hole. Although the second half doesn’t quite sustain its momentum, this is an admirable and original effort from all involved.

Jelani-QueenandSlim

14) Queen And Slim 

Queen And Slim is a gut-punch of a biopic that is timely in its portrayal of a couple whose romantic date takes a turn for the worse when a racially prejudiced police officer pulls them over for their driving. Both Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith are outstanding as the titular duo as they try to continually escape the law and as they are so well developed, it is easy to root for them. This is a biopic with a bite in its messages of race and portrayal of the police force that builds to an emotional climax.

ejvuylsxsaepyve

13) Mank

Mank is a different type of film for Fincher but one that retains a lot of his artistic qualities. It will be divisive amongst audiences but if the subject matter appeals and you appreciate Citizen Kane, this is a very fine companion piece to what is considered one of the most iconic and memorable films ever made. Mank is certainly not for everyone but given my personal fascination of the subject matter, I found a lot to admire here. Gary Oldman is superb as the titular character and this is a much more fitting and natural performance for him to win any Awards compared to his Oscar-winning turn in Darkest Hour a couple of years ago. Mankiewicz is a fascinating character and Fincher manages to perfectly encapsulate his genius, juxtaposed with his messy, incoherent descents into alcoholism. (Full review here)

beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood

12) A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood 

A totally different film for director Marielle Heller compared to Can You Ever Forgive Me last year, which also featured in my Best of the Year list. This is an affecting and sweet drama that follows a struggling journalist who is asked to write a feature on Fred Rogers. This is one of Tom Hanks’ best performance as the children’s television performer, who strikes a fine line between overly sweet and slightly creepy. The film has a wonderful message at its core and will leave you with a giddy smile by the film’s close.

Brody-SpikeLeeFilmReview

11) Da 5 Bloods 

Spike Lee’s latest is a gripping and politically relevant drama of four aging Vietnam veterans who travel back there to discover some treasure they had borrowed and rescue the body of their fallen leader. Delroy Lindo is extraordinary in the lead role of Paul, a bitter Trump supporter, and was robbed of an Oscar at the latest Academy Awards. The entire cast are also more than game for Lee’s biting material. Although the film is a little unwieldy in its 160 minute run time, when the film gets going, it is particularly affecting.


So there we go, numbers 20 down to 11. Stay tuned for the Top Ten in a separate post…


What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister