Ranking The Predator Films

Prey is currently playing on Hulu and Disney+ and has received acclaim for its back-to-basics, stripped-down approach.  As I have such a difference viewpoint on this series compared to convention, I thought now would be a fitting time to rank the films in the series so far. I would say that there is not much between the five films quality-wise – they’re all very solid and all pose some interesting ideas. However, the top three entries are a significant step-up from the films in fourth and fifth position and my ranking of them could interchange on any given day.
predator-movie-review-image-header 5) Predator This is probably where you completely shut off and disregard this list, but hear me out. The original Predator is still a great film, but it’s more a film of scenarios than a cohesive narrative and it’s a bit of a trudge to get through until we get to the now-classic Arnie vs The Predator fight which in itself is awesome. Director John McTiernan (who would later go on to make the perfect Die Hard) succeeds in creating suspense with numerous shots of the Predator watching on its prey but there isn’t all that much character development and because of the lack of a narrative thread, there are a few stretches where not much happens. The film also features a very memorable score that has carried through to the rest of the series from Alan Silvestri. Predator is still an enjoyable film but controversially, I don’t think it has aged all that well and the other films have taken the material in more interesting directions. predator_DF_12736_R_rgb.0 4) The Predator  The Predator is shambolically put together and its pacing is rather breakneck, but it is a really entertaining film and director Shane Black’s signature humour is put to good use here, through the characterisations of the PTSD-ridden soldiers who take on the mythical creature. The first half in particular has some really interesting ideas and some well-constructed action sequences, particularly one in a science facility. I also really liked the decision to have this film set more in the suburbs and the contrast of the Predator to the urban area is interesting. 3) Prey Prey is an excellent prequel and is just the gut-punch the series needs. Trachtenberg directs with flair and the film features some terrific performance among its almost exclusively Native American cast. The very fact Trachtenberg has opted to centre the film around an underrepresented community is to be commended, too, with the only exception to the rule being a group of French fur trappers Naru encounters. Amber Midthunder makes for a formidable screen presence and it’s great the film focusses on her humanity. She is portrayed as both a skilled hunter but also an individual who makes mistakes. Trachtenberg’s mirroring of smaller animals hunting each other and the Predator and anything that steps in its way is also an excellent creative stroke. predator-DI-2-1864x1118.jpg 2) Predator 2 Generally regarded as the worst in the series, Predator 2 is a very brave film in my opinion and is certainly not a film that would be made in this day and age. It’s a film that successfully expands upon the mythologies established in the first film and the Afro aesthetic puts an interesting spin on the character. Danny Glover is great in the lead role, a hot-headed policeman who wants justice but is afraid of heights, which he faces multiple times in the film. The film also features performances from Gary Busey as a shady DEA agent and Bill Paxton as a wisecracking new recruit. There isn’t a boring moment in the film and the final fight sequence is particularly satisfying, over multiple set pieces and sets up future films and cross-overs. predators-2010 1) Predators  Robert Rodriguez was a very interesting choice to reboot the series after Predator 2 failed to impress. Taking a producer role and having Hungarian director Nimrod Antal in the directors chair, Predators is the best in the series in terms of its ideas and narrative. The idea of setting this film on another planet also helps to further expand the mythology and the whole mystery of why specific people are chosen to participate in this game is compelling. The cast are uniformly great, with Adrien Brody solid in the lead and standout performances from Topher Grace, Louis Ozawa Changchien and Laurence Fishburne. Although its second half morphs more into a blockbuster, its first half is where the film really excels and poses its ideas. Although The Predator was a fine entry in the series following this film, what I’d really like to see are sequels / spin-off’s to Predators as there are a lot of interesting places you can take this concept. It’s a shame Predators didn’t do all that well at the box office and remains a very underrated entry in the series.
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister

Ranking The Comic-Book Films Of 2021

After a brief lull in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the comic-book genre propelled back to full force and 2021 brought us seven new films. Here, I rank these films in order of my personal preference.

Marvel dominated with four MCU entries releasing and kicking off the brand’s Phase 4. It started with Black Widow, which was supposed to release in Spring 2020 and was then followed by Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals, the latter also having meant to release last year. Marvel closed the year out with Spider-Man: No Way Home.

In its Sony slate, Venom: Let There Be Carnage released, swapping places with Morbius, which has moved to next year.

DC initially just had The Suicide Squad to release, with Matt Reeves’ The Batman being pushed back to 2022 and being revealed to be a standalone project, outside of its own cinematic universe. However, early in the year, many had their wish granted as Zack Snyder was given the all-clear to release his director’s cut, as he intended it of Justice League.

There’s a varying degree of quality in this list but for the most part, it was a very strong year for the genre. Let’s get started!

7) Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Venom was a regressive film for the comic-book genre, a painfully embarassing watch with an ear-scraping script, its action sequences were terrible and even the stature of Tom Hardy in the lead role couldn’t propel the film. When I heard that a sequel was commissioned and Andy Serkis would be stepping in the director’s chair with Quentin Tarantino’s regular cinematographer Robert Richardson shooting the film, my interest was piqued. Despite a generally positive reception this time around, unfortunately, I think it’s possibly even worse than the original!

The script is once again cringe-inducing and Tom Hardy phones his performance in. Serkis’ direction is surprisingly totally anonymous, as is Richardson’s cinematography. Even Woody Harrelson is completely wasted as the villain and isn’t allowed to inject any of his personality into the film. Naomie Harris joins the cast as a villain called Shriek and her performance is abysmal. I can’t believe this film exists in the form it does and the only saving grace is it runs under 100 minutes, but it feels like a lot longer!

6) Black Widow

Black Widow starts out in a promising fashion and almost suggests a new direction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its grittier tone and its well choreographed and stylised action sequences. It embraces its globe-trotting James Bond-esque origins even if it lacks the sophistication, sex and wit. Unfortunately after about half an hour, the film loses its edge and descends into convention with a half-baked story, cheesy family reunions and an over reliance on CGI, particularly at the film’s climax, which has been many a comic book film’s downfall in recent years. There are glimpses of Cate Shortland’s authorship in the first half an hour but the rest of the film feels like it was directed by a committee. 

5) Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home is a mostly thrilling ride with some excellent surprises in its narrative. It perfectly melds with the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb era and irreverently integrates the included villains with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film clearly takes inspiration from Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, which was rapturously received and although I admired that film’s effort to metatextualise its story, it runs into a raft of problems. 

No Way Home features some excellent interactions between characters, particularly in the second act, and the script penned by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers is sharp. It is not an easy task to meld the past and present in a film, with other tentpole films such as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker cheaply capitalising on nostalgia. 

No Way Home naturally barrels towards a large CGI set piece in the final act, which is well-handled due to some plot revelations that allow the film to explore what it means to be Spider-Man. The narrative choices are generally well-judged and attempts to mirror or contrast other entries in the MCU or prior Spider-Man films.

4) Eternals

Perhaps a controversial choice, but I found Eternals (the first MCU entry to receive mixed-to-negative reviews) to represent a refreshing change of pace for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Nomadland Oscar-winner Chloe Zhao lends an intimate and delicate hand to the material. The complex cosmic narrative is well-handled and each of the ten Eternals is well introduced and possess identifiable character traits, no mean feat when you’re juggling . The relationship between them all is admirably tackled, which is no mean feat as there is always a high risk of sidelining characters, especially when you have ten personalities to juggle. 

What allows Eternals to succeed (and perhaps why the film has received a decidedly mixed critical reception) is that it distances itself away from the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe formula and tone. This is a key problem with many entries, which silences the director’s vision and some of the films fall into the trap as feeling they are directed by committee. Other than some moments of light humour which are characteristic of most entries, Eternalsboasts a heavier weight in that it asks some difficult questions of its characters and portrays them as god-like, reminiscent of Zack Snyder’s treatment in his DCEU entries Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the director’s cut of Justice League. The film’s at its best in its quieter moments when characters weigh up some tough decisions.

3) Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

The best MCU entry of the year, other than a wonky beginning, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is upper-tier superhero fare. It follows the Marvel formula but its emotional warmth and martial arts sequences make it stand out from the crowd. There is a great set up of Shang-Chi’s family, which plays an important dynamic in the film. Shang-Chi boasts some innovative set pieces, fusing and updating the wuxia and kung-fu genres with modern visual effects. The first action sequence on the bus and another early sequence set in Xialing’s fight club are particular highlights with their kinetic energy. The tone of the film feels like a melding of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Chronicles of Narnia with the mystical worlds that Cretton creates. Some of the sheen is lost in the final act of the film as Cretton succumbs to a big CGI battle, which is customary for comic-book films and is often their downfall as the investment is lost in the characters. However, the final CGI spectacle doesn’t derail the film as it is not overlong and there is a purpose in the narrative but it would have been far more exciting if Cretton had tried to deviate from convention.

2) The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad is for the most part a giddy, gory and thoroughly adult superhero film. The film is written and directed by James Gunn, whose sensibility for gory horror and dark humour, blend perfectly with the source material, feeling much more akin to his earlier works such as Slither and Super. Gunn originally hit critical acclaim with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel, the first film in particular proving a refreshing break from the tired Marvel formula that really allowed his personality to shine through. Despite breaking free of the Marvel formula, Gunn was still constrained to a 12A / PG-13 rating, therefore The Suicide Squad represents him at his most unrestrained. 

The Suicide Squad fits into the wider DCEU rather awkwardly in that it is a part-sequel to 2016’s critically mauled Suicide Squad in that it shares a handful of the same characters but it also functions as a part-reboot in that everything about it is completely different to that film. 

Gunn has proven a knack for picking unfamiliar comic-book characters and spinning a gripping yarn from their background. The Suicide Squad is paced extremely well and the script is stuffed with quips and wisecracking interplay between the characters. There is violence and gore aplenty – heads are decapitated, blood splatters after characters get shot in the face and King Shark likes to devour people… a lot! This is a film that earns its 15 / R rating and it is all the better for it. Like its predecessor, there isn’t much of a story again this time round, but the characters combined objective acts as a coherent plot and there are some excellent character twists along the way. Gunn does an excellent job in not allowing his audience to get to attached to characters, as life is pretty expendable in this film. 

In a wider context, what impressed me most about The Suicide Squad was its progressive characters for the genre, which acts as a revisionist take on the superhero genre. The superhero genre is overpopulated with generic films that are uncomfortable in breaking the mould and Gunn’s film actively tries to defy conventions, even if it’s not always successful, but the ambition is to be admired. 

The main drawback of the film is in its ending, which unfortunately sticks to convention and is a little anti-climatic when the rest of the film is so entertaining and refreshing. 

And the best comic-book film of 2020 is…

1) Zack Snyder’s Justice League 

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an astonishing achievement and represents a mature and risky effort in establishing the DC team. The four hours fly by and it is a visual treat throughout. This is a Snyder film through and through but it interestingly represents a more mature effort in that the storytelling here is improved from some of his previous filmography, where some of his films have bordered on the incoherent. By the film having its length, the film can breathe and Snyder works wonders in establishing and developing each and every character of the team. There is no conceivable way this story can be told in a two hour run time.

The wider context of this director’s cut is fascinating in how different it is from what Warner Bros chose to release. The stark differences between both cuts is something that can and likely will be studied for years to come and having watched this director’s cut, one has to question the psychology of the decision to approve the theatrical cut for cinema release.

Ultimately, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a frequently astonishing and bold take on this DC lineup and it earns its four hour run time. With this director’s cut and Army Of The Dead, Snyder has matured as a director and he has markedly improved on some of his lesser qualities in previous films in regards to storytelling and representations. 



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


Ranking The Films Of Adam McKay

With Adam McKay’s latest feature, Don’t Look Up, hitting cinemas and also Netflix, now would make a fitting time to rank the director’s work to date. McKay’s career can be divided into two – a string of Will Ferrell-starring comedies and more serious satires. McKay is arguably one of the most influential figures in mainstream comedy behind films such as Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, holding a special place in fans of Will Ferrell’s hearts. McKay has seemingly ended his collaborations with Ferrell after a disagreement and has now moved into satirical pieces. His first, The Big Short, earned considerable acclaim and received Awards attention and he has continued this brand of film with Vice and now Don’t Look Up.

8) Step Brothers

Step Brothers is McKay’s only complete dud and what a shame with the talent involved. The conceit of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as brothers in adult’s bodies is genius but the film is aggressively unfunny and incredibly self-indulgent. It is expectedly juvenile in its humour but with a crass and nasty edge, the characters are nothing but annoying and the film’s tone is even quite mean-spirited at times. There isn’t really a narrative to the film and McKay just permits Ferrell and Reilly to perform their antics for the best part of 100 minutes. Even in lesser comedies, both comedians are capable of at least drawing a handful of laughs but even they can’t save this cynical and ugly film.

There is now a sizeable step in quality…

7) The Big Short  

McKay’s first film without Will Ferrell, The Big Short deals follows stockbrokers who bet that America will collapse into a housing crisis and reap the rewards when it does. The Big Short is a mixed bag – it is very original and has many flashes of sheer brilliance. There are some fantastic performances – Christian Bale is the standout and plays against type, not sharing any scenes with the rest of the main cast. However, on the flipside, the film comes off as incredibly smug and boisterous and it has a big identity crisis tonally. McKay isn’t quite sure what the film wants to be – at times it feels like a knock-off of The Wolf of Wall Street and at other times, he regresses to his comedic roots. This deeply impacts the film as tonally it feels very disjointed and feels more like a collection of scenes (some outstanding) spliced together rather than a feature length film. However, originality is what is to be admired here despite the film not hitting all the right notes. (My full review here)

Another large step up in quality…

6) Don’t Look Up

McKay’s latest, Don’t Look Up is an interesting piece. It is an expectedly biting satire with many satisfyingly uncomfortable comparisons to reality. There aren’t many laughs here due to how close the humour hits to home. That said, Don’t Look Up runs into the exactly the same problems as his previous two films (The Big Short and Vice) with its obnoxious and boisterous tone.  McKay directs with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the film would have worked better if he had left more to the imagination, perhaps with the aid of a co-writer, who could have reigned him in. The film’s pacing is scattershot throughout but particularly in its first half. Reducing the length by around twenty minutes would have really helped tighten up the pacing as the film doesn’t need to be 140 minutes. There are a range of quality performances here with Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ron Perlman and Melanie Lynskey the highlights, Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill miscast and a very strange performance from Mark Rylance. (My full review here)

5) Vice

Vice is definitely watching alone for the Christian Bale performance and McKay is working with some strong material. Taken on its own merits outside of being an Awards film of its respective year, this is an interesting and unconventional telling of America’s most powerful Vice-President in its history. There’s a lot more to like in Vice compared to The Big Short as it features a tremendous performance by Christian Bale and it tells an interesting story of his rise to power. However, it’s unfortunate that the film runs into pretty much all the same problems that plagued The Big Short as it also is rather disjointed in its pacing and similiarly boisterous in tone. There is no subtlety to McKay’s direction whatsoever and he drives his political message home with a sledgehammer throughout which often crosses the line of being preachy. Whilst there are a number of comedic moments that work, there are also moments where the film is aggressively unfunny.(My review here)

4) The Other Guys

The Other Guys represented a slightly more serious affair than McKay’s previous comedies but this is still a rib-tickling buddy cop action comedy parody that has plenty of heart to boot. Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell make for an excellent duo – Ferrell’s sensible policeman has a hilarious but loveable back story and Wahlberg flexes his comedic chops, arguably for the first time in his career. There is plenty to enjoy with the star-studded cast with strong supporting performances from Eva Mendes and Michael Keaton. Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson also make for a fantastic cop duo at the start of the film.

And now for the top three…

3) Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Whilst many would opine that Anchorman is McKay’s finest piece, it only makes it to third position on this list. Anchorman is a hilarious and endlessly quotable piece that put McKay on the map and elevated Will Ferrell’s career as the legendary newsreader Ron Burgundy, many still citing it up there with his best works. There are many standout comedic sequences, especially a scene with a cameo where Jack Black features in where Ferrell’s dog meets an unfortunate fate. Ferrell has great chemistry with the rest of the news team, consisting of Steve Carrell’s Brick, Paul Rudd’s Brian and David Koechner’s Champ who are all granted excellent lines and moments in the spotlight.

2) Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby

McKay and Ferrell’s second effort is another hilarious comedy, with Ferrell playing the titular character, a world-class NASCAR driver and his rivalry with Sacha Baron Cohen’s Jean Girard and the implications that has. Talladega Nights is yet another endlessly quotable comedy with some standout sequences, particularly one where Ricky Bobby is in hospital after a crash and is convinced that he is paralysed. This film also marks the first collaboration between Ferrell and John C. Reilly and both share an excellent chemistry here, bouncing off each other’s lines.

And the best Adam McKay film is…

1) Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

A controversial choice but Anchorman 2 is the rare sequel that betters the original. It is a more cohesive film than its predecessor and is far more intelligent with its humour, asking the philosophical question of what consitutes news and how newsreporting developed in the 1980s. There are many standout sequences here and again, a very sharp script written by McKay and Ferrell with some committed performances and some fun cameos. What elevates an already excellent film is its third act, where Burgundy faces an existential crisis that forces him to discover himself as an individual. Anchorman 2 is by far the best Adam McKay film and one of my favourite comedies of the 2010s.


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

Ranking The Films Of James Wan

With James Wan’s return to the horror genre, Malignant, hitting cinemas, now would make a fitting time to rank the director’s work to date. Wan is arguably the most influential figure in mainstream horror over the past two decades, launching the Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring horror franchises, each offering a distinctive take on the horror genre. Based on his success, Wan has recently tackled bigger budget fare such as Furious 7 and Aquaman. Malignant reflects Wan’s return to the horror genre and has received a polarised reception, some completely dismissing it whereas others sharing an appreciation for its ambition.

Please note that I am yet to see Furious 7, therefore it doesn’t feature in this ranking. 

9) Dead Silence

Wan’s follow-up feature after Saw, Dead Silence is by quite some distance, the worst film of Wan’s career. It was released off the back of many horror films of this type and Wan heavily leans into the camp territory. The narrative isn’t particularly interesting, it lacks a twist and the characters aren’t particularly well written, which are reflected in the stale performances. It’s not an outright disaster as Wan demonstrates he is adept with puppetry and there are a handful of creepy images but that’s about it.

There is now a sizeable step in quality…

8) Aquaman

Aquaman just about works as a film and it is a largely entertaining underwater extravaganza that is consistently visually stunning. I was frequently in awe witnessing the underwater world Wan created and there are many shots in the film that are wonderfully crafted. Even when the characters are on land, the visuals are excellent and a chase scene in a Sicilian setting is choreographed particularly well. As for Aquaman himself, James Wan certainly embraces the more corny aspects of the character but manages to inject a lot of heart and development to make him more likeable which is a relief. This cheesy tone Wan goes for isn’t entirely successful and the film is stuffed with formulaic dialogue and plot points. It’s also overlong at a whopping 143 minutes and although not to as bad an extent as other films, it does succumb to a CGI-fest in its final act. (My full review here)

Another large step up in quality…

7) Death Sentence

Death Sentence gets a bad rap from critics and audiences but I think this film is quite underrated. This is a lean and brutal revenge thriller that isn’t afraid of gore and violence. Kevin Bacon puts in a committed performance as a vigilante father with not much else to lose after his son is brutally murdered by a gang in an initiation ceremony. The villainous gang, headed by Garrett Hedlund, make for a particularly viable threat and Wan crafts some giddy action sequences. Ignore the reviews and give Death Sentence a watch as it is a total blast and has been somewhat buried compared to his other projects.

6) Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious: Chapter 2 received mixed reviews on its release and granted, it does lose some of its originality that the first film had but there are some top rate scares here and a very interesting storyline, which Wan prioritises over the scares. It successfully expands the mythology and framework of ‘The Further’ which this series would go on to further develop in its further sequels. Patrick Wilson provides a sinister riff on Jack Nicholson’s Danny Torrance in his performance and ties in with the first film very neatly.

5) The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2 isn’t as strong as the first film – it is overlong which severely impacts the pacing and just isn’t quite as interesting a story as the first one was. However, Wan delivers in spades on the scare-front and the film has some truly frightening sequences and there are also some great performances from the cast. Only Wan could have made or been given permission to make this film as 134 minutes for a horror film is uncommonly long and whilst there is a lot of character development (and self-indulgence), 20 minutes could fairly easily have been chopped off and the film would almost be as strong as the original. This is definitely its main problem which is to its detriment. The film bears many similarities to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and there are a couple of moments where the film leaves a bit of a sour taste as it reiterates many of the clichéd elements of superior horror films. Coming off a near-perfect original, it’s a shame The Conjuring 2 isn’t a knock-out, but that was always going to be impossible and there is still a lot to like in this film. (My full review here)

4) Malignant

Wan’s latest, Malignant is an ambitious risk and is the director’s interpretation of a Giallo horror. The narrative takes unexpected turns. The first act seems fairly generic on the surface, in the vein of Insidious, although Wan does establish an unsettling atmosphere. The film then morphs into a David Fincher-esque serial killer mystery, where it is at its best. A chase scene between the police and the assailant mid-way through is kinetic and heart-pounding. Its last half an hour or so is outrageous with a bonkers plot twist and is a cacophony of gleeful gore, body horror and John Wick-like ultraviolence, with a hint of Sam Raimi camp. As successful as Wan has been in establishing horror franchises, I hope this film remains a standalone piece, as I think it would be impossible for Wan to surprise his audience to this extent twice if he tackles a sequel. (My full review here)

And now for the top three…

3) Insidious

On the face of it, Insidious seems to begin as a somewhat conventional supernatural horror but with a better quality of jump scare. However, Wan is original with the material in terms of where the story goes and the second and third acts are particularly exciting and take some unexpected turns. What’s particularly impressive is Wan’s variation of jump scares and he is not afraid of unleashing horror on the family in broad daylight, which many horror films are guilty of avoiding.  

2) Saw

Wan’s directorial debut is by far and away the best in the franchise and its influence is somewhat diluted now by its cash cow sequels as most of them miss the point of this film to varying degrees. This is a gleefully nasty film, heavily influenced by Se7en but with its own parameters and character mythology. It has a knock-out twist at the end that if you were not aware of it going in, is jaw-dropping on a first viewing. What makes the film scary isn’t the gore and violence but it’s what Wan alludes to that you don’t witness on-screen. This is filmmaking at its most creative – Wan achieved this film on a very limited budget and he makes the most out of every dollar.

And the best James Wan film is…

1) The Conjuring

There was never any contention for the top spot. The Conjuring is by far and away the best film in the series and this film really helped to propel Wan’s career. The film is suitably scary, very atmospheric and has a fascinating narrative. Wan develops the characters superbly, in particular Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who are great as The Warren’s. Although the scares aren’t the most original, it’s in the execution which allows this film to really deliver and some of the set pieces in this film are mesmerising. The Conjuring is a film that is even better on rewatches and when we come back to look on the horror genre in the 2010’s, this film is straight up there with its highlights. It is a masterpiece.


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

Top Five Mads Mikkelsen Performances

Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen has a new film out later this week called Riders of Justice, which reunites him with director Anders Thomas Jensen, after collaborating on The Green Butchers, Adam’s Apples and Men and Chicken. Whatever film he is in, be it in his native Denmark or in his international efforts, Mikkelsen consistently puts in a strong performance and his filmography covers a vast array of genres. He has been often typecast for his villainous roles but Mikkelsen is capable and has proved himself in a wider range of characters and performances as one could be led to believe.

Here, I will reveal my top five performances in films that have featured Mikkelsen. These choices are based on both his performance in them and their quality.

5) The Salvation

This was a toss-up between this film and The Three Musketeers, the latter a rather controversial choice but the film is great fun and Mikkelsen makes for a devious Rochefort. The Salvation is a Western which finds Mikkelsen playing Jon, a Danish settler who has emigrated to the United States and his family arrive seven years later. Unfortunately, the family’s reunion is short-lived after an ill-fated stagecoach journey and Mikkelsen finds himself on a path of revenge and destruction against the villainous Delarue, gleefully portrayed by the also underrated Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The Salvation is a lean and mean Western that doesn’t particularly reinvent the genre but largely succeeds on Mikkelsen’s barnstorming performance.

4) Another Round

Currently in cinemas, although you may need to seek it out (and I suggest you do!), Another Round is a high concept tragicomedy from director Thomas Vinterberg. These qualities are shared by three of his close friends who also teach in the same school – sports teacher Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), music teacher Peter (Lars Ranthe) and psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang). When they meet up to celebrate Nikolaj’s 40th birthday in an up-market restaurant, they get very drunk. One of them brings up the subject of a theory by Norwegian psychologist Finn Skårderud who opined that humanity performs best when they have a blood alcohol content of 0.05%.  Martin decides to put this theory to the test one day whilst teaching and he finds that he has a much closer relationship with his pupils. The rest of the group decide to join in and they all have similarly positive results. They start to record their results in an academic journal that they curate and as the film progresses, they slowly up the alcohol level to explore the effects. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they discover that the benefits start to stagnate the more they drink and they eventually reach the road of self-destruction, with both comedic and devastating consequences. 

Another Round is often infectiously humorous and the relationship between the four teachers is developed very authentically and they have fantastic chemistry. The film is equally depressing at times when we witness the dire consequences alcohol can have on these teachers. The first two thirds of the film is particularly beautifully crafted but it loses its footing in the final third somewhat. The final act negates the message of the first two acts and Vinterberg seems to be unsure in his argument of whether alcohol has a positive or negative influence. Mikkelsen is typically excellent in the role, who portrays Martin with a potent world-weariness and a tinge of sadness. He is an easy character to care for as he learns to live again many times in the film. (Full review here)

3) Polar

A wildly controversial choice as Polar got absolutely trashed by critics in its reviews. A Netflix OriginalPolar is a revenge thriller in the vein of John Wick and Taken with Mads Mikkelsen playing the action hero with spectacular results. The film is utterly bonkers and what is impressive is how it manages to balance sheer grittiness and savage ultraviolence with its ridiculous tone. The decision to cast Matt Lucas as the over-the-top villain is a stroke of genius and the result is a film that I really got on board with.

2) Casino Royale

Mikkelsen’s big Hollywood break came in the form of James Bond where he is put against Daniel Craig in his debut film. Casino Royale rejuvenated the franchise after the disastrous Die Another Day, a film that rebooted Bond for the modern day audience with its grittier and darker tone. Mikkelsen plays Le Chiffre, an expert poker player who suffers from a blood-weeping eye. Mikkelsen makes for a nasty villain, who for much of the run time, taunts Bond intellectually. There is a particularly grisly torture sequence late in the film for Le Chiffre to further open up, which makes for satisfyingly uncomfortable viewing.

1) The Hunt 

By far and away Mads Mikkelsen’s career pinnacle, The Hunt is a masterclass of a drama from director Thomas Vinterberg. Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a daycare employee, who is falsely accused of indecently exposing himself to a child. The film follows the community turn against him and Lucas is treated quite terribly, as he tries to prove his innocence. This film packs an emotional wallop and Lucas goes through hell, his world-weary and slitted eyes wearing guilt that he shouldn’t have. If you haven’t seen The Hunt, go and watch it immediately as it is not just Mikkelsen’s best performance or Vinterberg’s best film but it is one of the best films of the 2010s.


So there we go. What do you think? What did I miss? If you haven’t watched any of these films, I’d highly recommend you do so as they’re all really worthwhile and I’m sure Mikkelsen’s career will continue to be a fascinating one, especially with the untitled Fantastic Beasts sequel where he will replace Johnny Depp as the main antagonist of the series, Grindelwald.

Riders of Justice is released in UK cinemas on Friday 23rd July

Ranking The Comic-Book Films Of 2020

The comic-book genre continues to maintain its audience popularity and 2020 brought some new additions to the table. Unfortunately, not every film that was in the calendar has been released due to the coronavirus pandemic, so this is a much smaller year in terms of volume. Three films made it to release. Here, I rank these films in order of my personal preference.

In a surprise move, DC had the biggest year releasing two of its films. Birds of Prey was lucky to release in February just before the pandemic hit and was interesting in that it represents a more adult take on the genre with an all female cast. Wonder Woman 1984 was scheduled for early June but found itself getting delayed and ultimately recieved a hybrid release in select open cinemas and video-on-demand in December.

Marvel were meant to release two films this year – Black Widow and The Eternals but neither were released and have moved to the 2021 slate. Black Widow was meant to release in May but Disney have been reluctant to move it to their Disney+ channel and are trying to hold out for a theatrical release.

In their Sony slate, Marvel were also meant to release Morbius and Venom 2 this year that continue the universe set up by Venom but both have also been moved to 2021.

In what is perhaps a surprise move, the final X-Men film (well more of a spin-off that was meant to release back in 2018!), The New Mutants, had a quiet release in Summer once cinemas reopened but had next to no marketing. It has been clear since its strained release that Disney-Fox lacked confidence in the product and in the vein of Fantastic Four, tried to dump it on screens so that it had a theatrical release and be rid of it. 

Overall, I would argue that the three films in this small list here are all good and there isn’t a great deal between them, especially the top two films in this list. Let’s get started!

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3) Birds of Prey 

Birds of Prey is an interesting addition to the DCEU in that it functions as a distanced sequel to Suicide Squad in that it follows Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and some of the ramifications following the events in that film but functions as a standalone piece otherwise. Directed by Cathy Yan, this is an interesting and original entry into the comic-book genre that hits more than it misses. Yan implores the use of unreliable narration and dials up the violence to earn the film a 15 rating, following the success of more adult entries such as Deadpool and Logan. It’s also an all female team directed with a feminist agenda which is also refreshing. The film is very ramshackle in its construction for its first two acts and there are some sequences that diverge from the main plot which just don’t work, alongside some poor musical choices. However, the film finds its footing in the final act once the team are assembled and there is a carnival-esque quality to their camrarderie. Birds of Prey is an interesting film that I’m glad exists and I would be happy to watch future installments but this film does run into its fair share of issues.

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2) Wonder Woman 1984 

Overall, Wonder Woman 1984 is a risky sequel that retains the first film’s quality in developing its characters and uses action sparingly in its long run time. I can understand the mixed reception to some of the film’s themes but I got on board with the narrative and was thoroughly entertained from when the film finds its footing about 20 minutes in right through to the end. Yes, it has its problems with some of the narrative choices and the depiction of Cheetah but director Patty Jenkins poses enough thought-provoking questions and develops her characters very well to make the film worthwhile. It is always better for a sequel to take risks in order to develop a film series rather than just rehash the same beats and for that, you have to appreciate the ambition of Wonder Woman 1984, even if said risks don’t always pay off. It will be very interesting to see where Wonder Woman and the supporting characters are taken next in future DCEU films. (My full review here)

And the best comic-book film of 2020 is…

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1) The New Mutants 

A choice that I’m sure will spark controversy! Although Wonder Woman 1984 is perhaps a slightly more consistent film, The New Mutants surprised me in that it 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. Despite the ambitions for The New Mutants to start a new series, this standalone film is a valiant effort in its final form and is worth watching for viewers of the series. (My full review here)



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


 

Ranking Best Picture Nominees

The Academy Awards have now been and gone and Parasite ended up being triumphant for the Best Picture award, becoming the first foreign language feature to win the coveted gong. Here I rank the Best Picture nominees in order of my own personal preference.

Let’s get started… 

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9) 1917

1917 looked to be the biggest threat to Parasite in terms of the Best Picture award and I am so glad 1917 didn’t win here. I don’t really understand the praise for this film at all. Whilst on a technical level, there is a lot to admire, it doesn’t really break new ground for the genre. The notion of a continuous shot has been utilised in a few films recently, most notably Birdman which was a big Oscar contender a few years ago. A lot of 1917 felt like  watching a video game rather than a film. The biggest crime of the film is how thinly drawn the characters are and I had no emotional investment in any of them. The performances are fine and the cast make the most of the thin material. There are some fantastic moments of Thomas Newman’s score and some interesting shots from Roger Deakins. But this just isn’t Best Picture material and I’m really surprised at the praise lavished on this film.

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8) Marriage Story

Marriage Story has some strong performances from Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver and at times, a very sharp script. I haven’t really jelled with the bulk of director Noah Baumbach’s filmography in the past but this is his definitely his most assured work. Baumbach tackles the notion of family, relationships and the bitter and difficult subject that is divorce well and there are some standout scenes here, particularly one scene where Driver’s father looks after his son and is monitored by a child evaluator. But Marriage Story could have interrogated these themes further and it’s never quite as satisfying as it should be. Still, this is a big step in the right direction for Baumbach and the performances and script are the best things going for it.

Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson in Greta Gerwig's LITTLE WOMEN.

7) Little Women 

I was really excited to watch Greta Gerwig’s second directorial effort after being knocked out by Lady Bird a couple of years ago. Little Women is a valiant follow-up and retains the sharp dialogue and Gerwig develops the characters well. Saoirse Ronan and Eliza Scanlen particularly stand out as two of the sisters and they both give very multi-layered performances. Gerwig interrogates the themes of family and literature deftly and for a film that has a period setting, it feels very modern in its narrative. This is a strong and refreshingly different adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel and I can’t wait to see what Gerwig does next.

It is at this point that ranking the rest of the films gets pretty tough and many are interchangeable. 

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6) The Irishman 

The Irishman has been a very long time coming and easily Netflix’s biggest acquisition in their plight for original film content. There is a lot to like in the finished product. The main trio of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci are outstanding as expected. Pesci is particularly strong in playing a role against type. The film is never boring in its gargantuan three and a half hour run time and the final third in particular is impressive. Director Martin Scorsese explores the ugly reality of the gangster genre which is a contrast from his other films in the genre which have focussed more on its glamorisation. The kills here are quick yet depressing and their actions have dire consequences. But unfortunately, this is far from prime Scorsese. The de-aging visual effects are a mixed bag and are very obvious at times, distracting from the story that is being portrayed. As the way in which Scorsese tries to portray the story at times is quite blunt, there is a feeling that there isn’t much of a pay-off to the lengthy run time and some sequences are unsatisfying, particularly as I had read the book this was based on. The Irishman is an interesting experiment from Scorsese but it’s far from his best work.

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5) 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 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. 

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4) Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari pedals an entertaining and gripping story of its source material that is bolstered by some strong performances and good racing sequences. This is despite a lengthy 152 minute run time which is impressive as it always sustains the pace. The characters are well-developed, particularly Matt Damon and Christian Bale’s leads and the interplay between them is heartfelt yet entertaining. Bale is particularly effective as British World War II veteran / professional race driver as he is constantly let down by his peers who do not appreciate his genius. Tracy Letts is also a standout as the CEO of Ford who is able to balance the authoritarian, no-nonsense but a little dim side with the sheer thrill of race driving. There is a particularly effective scene when he is driven in the car that bears his name around a race track where he breaks down in tears. Visually, the film is sharp with Mangold-regular Phedon Papamichael’s photography showcasing the scope of the race. There are also some sound themes from another Mangold-regular, Marco Beltrami who co-scores the film with Buck Sanders.

As entertaining as the film is, Mangold is surprisingly rather slavish to the biopic formula, something which he managed to subvert beautifully in Logan. The plot is mostly predictable in terms of the character beats needed to serve the genre and there aren’t many surprises to the formula. But ultimately, despite its reliance on formula, there is more than enough in Ford v Ferrari to enjoy and this is an above average effort in a genre that can often isolate audiences that aren’t car enthusiasts. (My review here)

Now things get tricky… 

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3) Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood 

Quentin Tarantino’s latest is a multi-layered and a more mature effort compared to his previous back catalogue. For the most part, this film lacks the trademark ultraviolence and shocks and is a contemplative study of Hollywood in its golden age. On a first watch, the first two thirds do meander somewhat but it is all for a purpose and the final third really pays off. On subsequent rewatches, there is a lot more to appreciate. The performances across the board are top-notch here, Brad Pitt in particular a standout. That said, like Taika Waititi with Jojo Rabbit, this is not Tarantino’s best work and he is being recognised for the wrong film but this is still a total blast from start to finish.

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2) Joker

Joker is enthralling from start to finish and is one of the best films of the year. Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerising as the titular character and is strangely sympathetic as an individual who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong and commits some despicable acts. Phoenix really becomes the Joker in the last 20 minutes of the film or so and this is particularly effective and it’s astonishing to chronicle the difference in the character from the start of the film to the wicked monster we get at the end. What also elevates Joker from more standard comic-book fare is how it proposes so many different meanings and interpretations. This is a film that requires multiple watches to really get the full picture. Phillips interrogates many interesting themes, the most interesting of which is his depiction of mental illness and the questioning of how society tackles this problem. The string-based score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is hypnotic and compliments the film beautifully, doing a lot of heavy lifting in places. It’s one of the best scores of the year. The film is also beautifully shot by Lawrence Sher, who manages to capture the grittiness of Gotham City and juxtaposes it with the neon, pulsating urbanisation.

The film isn’t quite perfect though. As is clear in all of director Todd Phillips’ career, he’s not the most subtle director and there are a few instances in which Phillips chooses to explain certain choices which were pretty self-evident. I’m also a little unsure of the film’s final scene tonally and thought the film could have ended a scene earlier but based on some critical readings that have been put forward, it is admittedly necessary. There are so many standout scenes in this film that are just stunning to behold and you have to admire the ambition. Joker is fully deserving of the praise it has received and is one of the best films of the year. (My review here)

And the best film is…

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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.

Summary

Overall, this is a weak collection of films nominated for Best Picture, with the exception of my top three. There isn’t a great deal in between most of the other films and they all have their flaws. Luckily though, my top three favourite films here all performed very well and it was groundbreaking to see Parasite win Best Picture.

Ranking The Terminator Films

Terminator: Dark Fate is currently playing in cinemas and whilst its had a rather muted reception, I found a lot to like in it. As I have such a difference viewpoint on this series compared to convention, I thought now would be a fitting time to rank the films in the series so far.

Here is my ranking:

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6) Terminator Genisys

I found it really difficult to rank the first half of this list as there’s not much in it. However, in last place is Terminator: Genisys. What should have been a success, especially with Arnold Schwarzenegger rejoining the series, ended up tanking both critically and at the box office. Although I admit Terminator Genisys has a number of big problems, the film makes up for it in sheer entertainment factor and a couple of interesting ideas which it just about manages to implement. The film’s pacing is very uneven and clunky and the visual effects are surprisingly for 2015 rather sub-par. Choices that have been made by the marketing team are, to put it simply, baffling as a big plot twist was intentionally revealed in the film’s second trailer and poster, where it revealed that John Connor was the villain. Why this was revealed absolutely defies belief – if the plot twist was left for audiences to experience when watching the actual film, it is possible that the reception that the film has garnered would have been very different. The film’s biggest hindrance is its director, Alan Taylor, who seems to be incapable of having any ideas of his own and instead relies on what the studios force him to do. The first 40 minutes is also not great with a rote opening in the future and then Taylor tries to tick off a checklist with references to the first film. The film picks up after and it’s not bad at all. The film also has a mixed bag of performances, with a welcome return from Schwarzenegger and Emilia Clarke fairing well as a younger Sarah Connor but both Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney are miscast and have no charisma in their interpretation of iconic roles. Although it’s a mixed bag, Terminator: Genisys is good fun overall but it’s easy to see why it didn’t appeal. (My original review here)

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5) The Terminator

The first controversial part of this ranking, I don’t think The Terminator, the film that started this series, is that good. There are so many iconic sequences here and Arnold Schwarzenegger is fantastic in the role that kicked off his career. But as a film, it’s a bit of a trudge to get through. The middle is where the film is best where it’s a pure cat-and-mouse chase between The Terminator and Sarah Connor but the ending action sequence isn’t particularly exciting and the first act is a solid build-up to the carnage that then ensues. I think The Terminator was good in that it introduced some key concepts into the series but the franchise peaked later on.

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4) Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines 

The third film in the series had a lot to live up to after James Cameron’s first two entries. Whilst the third film doesn’t top the second, it deserves a lot more credit than it recieved. This is another very entertaining entry and there are many action sequences that are well-shot. The film has a formiddable villain in Kristanna Loken’s TX who is a tough match for the characters to face against. I also appreciated the darker ending the film took and it poses some interesting questions. The film does lose a bit of steam in its final act and can’t match the breakneck pace of the first two acts, but overall a very solid entry in the series.

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3) Terminator: Dark Fate 

Although rather generic in parts and with a shaky opening, Terminator: Dark Fate is often very entertaining and even elegiac in parts in how it melds the old and new. Director Tim Miller makes a bold decision in the film’s opening which has polarised viewers but I thought it worked. There are some gritty action sequences – the first car chase is particularly good and demonstrates Miller’s visual effects heavy background. The other action sequences are all exciting but one does have to suspend disbelief as there are a couple of distracting breaking the laws of physics, which does lower the emotional investment in the characters a little. The film does feel a little like a soft reboot in its narrative, very much in the vein of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Halloween. That said, much like the latter, it works as the new characters the film introduces, especially Natalia Reyes’ Dani Ramos are sympathetic and well-developed. The question remains though whether audiences have had enough of this franchise or are willing to give it another chance. (My full review here)

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2) Terminator Salvation 

Another controversial opinion but I love Terminator Salvation. The decision to set a Terminator film in the future in the height of the Skynet war is a strong departure from the first three films and it really works. Christian Bale and Sam Worthington are great in the lead roles and the action sequences are really well-choreograped and adrenaline-fuelled. The film poses some interesting questions in humanity and I would have loved to have seen this storyline continued in future sequels. A shame that the film was very negatively reviewed, I hope this film gets re-assessed in time.

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1) Terminator 2: Judgement Day

The best film by far is Terminator 2: Judgement Day. James Cameron’s sequel is superior in every respect to the original and it’s very impressive how the sequel is very different in its storyline, not just reheasing the first film. The performances by the cast are all excellent and Robert Patrick’s shapeshifting, liquid metal T-1000 is one of the best adversaries in film ever. The film is paced perfectly and never really puts a foot wrong in its lengthy run time. This is the ultimate Terminator film in the series and one that will never be topped.


So that’s how I would rank the films which does differ a little to convention. I do hope we get to see more of this series but as the last 3 films have failed to ignite sequels from their storylines, the signs currently aren’t boding well.


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

Ranking The Comic-Book Films of 2019

The comic-book genre is maintaining its audience popularity and 2019 brought 6 new films to the table. This continues the trend of an increase in this type of film each year and with Marvel having just announced their Phase 4 slate, this number is only going to increase. Here, I rank these films in order of my personal preference.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe reached giddy heights this year, particularly with Avengers: Endgame acting as a culmination of all the films thus far and by-and-large satisfied the fans on the promise of Avengers: Infinity War. Captain Marvel had a shaky start at the beginning of the year but when the film came out, reviews were pretty good and Spider-Man: Far From Home rounded off Phase 3 by answering some of the questions fans had on the repercussions of Endgame.

DC had a very intersting year by first doing well with Shazam! critically and the property finding fandom but it didn’t do well at the box office. Later in the year and not considered part of the DCEU, we had Joker which proved very polarising on release and attracted many controversies. However, generally more people like it than not and it has become the highest-grossing 15 rated film, surpassing both Deadpool and Deadpool 2.

Finally, X-Men: Dark Phoenix released in the Summer which tanked both critically and at the box office. It solidified the end of the series and it is inevitable that Marvel will be integrating the heroes into the MCU. We still have New Mutants to go which is now meant to release next year but word on the street is not good. 

Overall, I would say this was a strong year for the genre with everything pretty good and this has been quite a hard list to rank as many of them are very similar in quality. Let’s get started!

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6) Spider-Man: Far From Home 

I’m genuinely baffled why Spider-Man: Far From Home recieved such the positive response that it did. I found it to be a crushing disappointment and undoes a lot of the excellent work returning director Jon Watts achieved in Spider-Man: Homecoming. I was so surprised when that film released how good it was especially after a time where there had been an influx of films with this superhero but it struck the perfect tone between its humour and seriousness, making for a very grounded entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and featured a very formiddable villain in the form of Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Spider-Man: Far From Home is a real mess narratively and is at times, quite boisterous in tone and the notes it strikes are painfully obvious. The humour does not work at all and you know your film has problems when even Jake Gyllenhaal, who I cannot think of ever being bad in a film, is wasted in the villain role. This was a crushing disappointment and I hope the creative team do not fall into the same traps with the inevitable third film.

There is now a big step in quality…

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5) X-Men: Dark Phoenix 

X-Men: Dark Phoenix recieved terrible reviews and did very poorly at the box office. Surprisingly, I found a lot to like in this film. This is a much more grounded, mature film and director Simon Kinberg interrogates some interesting themes. This is a film where the characters interact with each other and consider the consequences their actions may have rather than having big, brainless action sequences mixed with corny character quips. Perhaps the reason why this film was rejected by many was that it didn’t offer audiences the grand finale of a series it promised and was instead a more meditative affair. I really liked this film and whilst it doesn’t always succeed, the ambition is to be admired. The score by Hans Zimmer is also fantastic and the film is visually interesting. This is a bold move for the series to go out on and I hope the film gets reassessed for what it is as time goes by.

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4) Avengers: Endgame 

Avengers: Endgame is a mostly satisfying culmination of the films so far but it does have its fair share of problems and Infinity War is by far the stronger film of the two. Endgame has a clear three act structure and it succeeds best in its first act where it deals with the repercussions of Infinity War. Although flawed, it makes for an interesting character study and delves into the psyche of the remaining heroes valiantly. The film runs into problems after its first act where it chooses to rectify the events of Infinity War through time travel. Time travel is always a difficult concept as it does feel like a cheap way of rectifying a narrative and it undoes a lot of the stakes audiences have previously invested and means characters are less expendable. Admittedly, Endgame does negotiate its time travel section competently and the film is always entertaining, even if the very conceit is a flawed one. Endgame runs into big problems in its third act where it makes some obvious choices and chooses to give in to fan service. I found its feminism message in particular quite sickly and the ending rather unsatisfactory. However, for a three hour film despite my problems, I was invested the whole way through and I was never bored by the film. The film gets a lot right but it’s just frustrating that more risks weren’t taken in the film’s finale.

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3) Shazam!

Shazam! is an entertaining romp from start to finish that establishes and develops its characters very well. Horror director David F. Sandberg does a great job with this material and it’s satisfying to see his horror influences in certain places of the film as it is quite dark in places. Sandberg balances this with some well-judged humour and Zachary Levi is excellent as the titular character, as are the younger child actors. The notion of family is particularly well realised here and by the end of the film, I would be very happy to spend more time in this world Sandberg has created. Mark Strong is clearly having a good time as the villain and there are some inventive action sequences. This felt like a breath of fresh air in the DCEU and is definitely a more consistent film compared to both Justice League and Aquaman.

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2) Captain Marvel 

Other than a wonky first act, Captain Marvel is entertaining throughout and is refreshingly light for a superhero film. It’s also a film that doesn’t spend copious amounts of time explaining everything and the decision to start the film on an alien planet with a whole race of beings audiences are not familiar with is quite bold. Once Captain Marvel finds herself on Earth, there is some great interplay between Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, who gets developed exponentially as a character here. Ben Mendelsohn, who previous collaborated with directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck on Mississippi Grind, plays a Skrull called Talos and he is equally great and is clearly having a fun time, chewing the scenery. The film is at its best when it fully embraces its 90s setting and fun is poked at Larson’s fish-out-of-water character. When the superhero antics finally arrive, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome and it’s never boring. The film has some good twists up its sleeve too and subverts expectations. (My full review here)

And the best comic-book film of 2018 is…

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1) Joker

By quite some distance, Joker is the comic-book film of the year. Joker is enthralling from start to finish and is one of the best films of the year. Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerising as Arthur and is strangely sympathetic as a character who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong and commits some despicable acts. Phoenix really becomes the Joker in the last 20 minutes of the film or so and this is particularly effective and it’s astonishing to chronicle the difference in the character from the start of the film to the wicked monster we get at the end. What also elevates Joker from more standard comic-book fare is how it proposes so many different meanings and interpretations. This is a film that requires multiple watches to really get the full picture. Phillips interrogates many interesting themes, the most interesting of which is his depiction of mental illness and the questioning of how society tackles this problem.The string-based score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is hypnotic and compliments the film beautifully. The film is also beautifully shot by Lawrence Sher, who manages to capture the grittiness of Gotham City and juxtaposes it with the neon, pulsating urbanisation. Ultimately, Joker is an unqualified success and another stellar retelling of the iconic character. There are so many standout scenes here that are just stunning to behold. Joker is one of the best films of the year and it will be interesting to see if it gets considered for Awards in the upcoming season, especially given how divisive it has proven to be. (My full review here)



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


 

Best Films of 2018 (20-11)

Now that we are in full swing of the 2019 films, it’s time to reflect on 2018 and here I 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. This was generally quite a weak year for film, with many of the big hitters disappointing. A lot of the films that I expected to be great were disappointing and a number of films that were unheard of or those that I initially had little faith in were excellent. 

Although my Mid-Year Report only included ten films, this list will include 20 films with some honourable mentions. The rank order has changed a little from the Mid-Year Report on account of rewatching a lot of these films multiple times and some I have found to be more rewatchable than others. So just because a film ranked higher earlier on last year doesn’t necessarily mean this will be the case now – that’s just the nature of the art of film I guess. 

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. 

Honourable Mentions

Here are my honourable mentions, films that didn’t quite make it into the Top Twenty but I feel that they should still deserve a mention. Please note I have listed them in alphabetical order – this is not a ranking of them. 

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Apostle

Gareth Evans’ first film after The Raid films is a mature and elegant period horror that is the director at his best. Dan Stevens is very strong as the main character, Thomas Richardson, who sets out to a remote Welsh island to rescue his sister. With clear influences from The Wicker Man, Evans melds the folklore and impending sense of dread with more period detailling and gore aplomb. A shame that this film wasn’t really given the recognition it was due, I think this was mainly down to its unceremenious dumping on Netflix.

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BlacKkKlansman

When the main narrative takes centre stage after a self-indulgent opening, BlacKkKlansman is thoroughly enjoyable film in Spike Lee’s filmography. It spins a gripping yarn out of a fascinating story and is bolstered by being technically proficient and having some great performances. Lee interrogates many different themes, chiefly duality between the film’s events and characters and he manages to balance some laugh-out-loud humour with its main message. All of the film’s characters are well-developed, even the KKK members have fleshed story arcs and you do begin to sympathise not with their beliefs, but with their personalities a little which is to be commended. BlacKkKlansman is definitely worth seeking out and most audiences should have a blast with it, as well as discovering and questioning the ways in which America’s society works, but it’s far from perfect. (My original review here)

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The Old Man and the Gun

If The Old Man And The Gun is indeed Robert Redford’s swansong, it will be a very good note to go out on. This is an entertaining heist film based on a true story that poses some interesting questions yet deconstructs the generic constructs of the hist film with Redford’s portrayal of an older-aged bank robber with manners, Forrest Tucker, who is oddly charming, feel-good and unthreatening. Director David Lowery’s film is a mature and oddly elegiac study into the psyche of the criminal, as he interrogates existential themes of a man who cannot not commit criminal acts as it makes him tick. This is a fine note for Redford to retire on. (My original review here)

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Papillon

A total surprise that what seemed like an unnecessary remake turned out to be quite this good. Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek are excellent as the lead two roles and although this remake is quite faithful to the 1973 original, this film packs emotion and thrills in spades. Yorick van Wageningen fares particularly well as the nasty Warden and is clearly having a good time. I was engrossed in the film from start to finish and this is a remake that justifies its existence.

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22 July 

Another Netflix Original, 22 July is possibly one of Paul Greengrass’ best films in a long time. This is a deep delving into the Norweigan attack and the attack that Greengrass recreates is mesmerising and haunting – certainly one of the best extended sequences of the year. Anders Danielsen Lie is terrific as the twisted terrorist who feels chillingly close to the real Anders Breivik. The film does lose a bit of steam in its final act but when it’s at its best, it is mesmerising.

Now onto the Top Twenty:

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20) Ant-Man and the Wasp 

Ant-Man and the Wasp is just as good as the original and like it, it is full of heart and character-driven moments. Director Peyton Reed further develops the innovative action sequences through the creative variations in size and spectacle in the first film, a car chase fares particularly well. Reed definitely seems to feel a lot more confident this time around, particularly as his direction doesn’t bear the spectre of Edgar Wright, who famously departed the first film. This is aided again by confident performances from the cast all around and the additions of new cast members make the film feel fresh, Laurence Fishburne and Randall Park faring the best. (My original review here)

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19) Unsane

The ever-dependable Steven Soderbergh returns with this psychological thriller shot on an iPhone. Unsane stars Claire Foy as a woman who is confined to a mental institution where her alleged stalker reappears. The film revolves around the age-old idea of who is in the right and Soderbergh once again, creates a twisty narrative that had me enthralled pretty much throughout. Foy is excellent and there are good performances by Joshua Leonard and Jay Pharoah here too. The film dips a little in its climax where the narratives becomes increasingly implausible but Soderbergh does a very good job with the vast majority of the film for it to sneak in.

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18) Bohemian Rhapsody 

Bohemian Rhapsody is a well-crafted biopic that I was emotionally invested in for much of its running time. Rami Malek’s performance as Mercury is sensational and he completely inhabits the role, through his appearance, speech and mannerisms, capturing the late rock icon to a tee. The performances across the board are uniformly strong and Mike Myers is particularly good in a small role as a slimy EMI executive. Visually, the film looks good, for the most part Bryan Singer-regular, Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is sound and the hair/make up and costuming are convincing, with the exception of Malek’s fake buckteeth at the beginning of the film which are a bit jarring. The film is sensible in its scope in terms of the events it goes through in the space of the 134 minute running time and achieves all the major beats in the band’s history, ending in Queen’s Live Aid performance and Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis. As a Queen fan, I’d have been more than happy to watch more if the film was longer and went into further detail but one must realise this film has to appeal on all levels. Bohemian Rhapsody is a rather sanitised affair though. Considering this is a film about a band that took risks, the film could have interrogated some of the events and the band members a little more perceptively. Unlike many reviews, I found the major mis-step with the film to be the ending Live Aid concert, which goes on for a good 15/20 minutes. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography in this sequence is rather too flashy for its own good, with too many aerial shots and it looks too digitised and the whole sequence almost borders on being a bit naff and karaoke-like. Flaws aside, I was surprised by how emotionally invested I ended up being in Bohemian Rhapsody and it does overall, more than manage to capture the overarching essence of the band and succeeds in how they interact, even if the film does end up playing things safe. (My original review here)

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17) Leave No Trace 

Leave No Trace is the long-awaited follow-up from director Debra Granik who last made Winter’s Bone in 2010, the film that firmly established Jennifer Lawrence into the film industry. This is a mature and emotional film that is about a PTSD-ridden father and his young daughter who are trying to fit into society. Both Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie are sensational and they are thrown into some really quite overwhelming situations as the film progresses. This is an affecting drama that proves Winter’s Bone was not a one-off.

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16) First Reformed 

First Reformed is a haunting, minor-key triumph from Paul Schrader in a return to form with Ethan Hawke at the top of his game as a Reverend having a crisis of faith. Schrader’s film explores all of his typical weighty themes of guilt, obsession and extremeism in an slow but intense fashion as the film progresses. Amanda Seyfried is excellent as a young widow whose radical environmentalist husband has cast a dark shadow on her life. First Reformed is an excellent character study and I was enthralled by it.

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15) Overlord

Overlord is an effective and highly entertaining genre hybrid that is a total blast from start to finish. The premise is quite simple – set in the run-up to D-Day, we follow a group of American soldiers who have been tasked to destroy a German radio tower in an old church. However, this task is made rather difficult when their plane is shot down, in spectacular fashion, and they need to evade the Nazi’s whilst completing their mission. This is only director Julius Avery’s second feature but he clearly has the skills of a more seasoned director in how well this film is constructed. With the support of J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot company producing, many thought this film would be another Cloverfield sequel, but it’s certainly not and it’s all the better for it in how standalone it is. There are multiple sequences here that are outstanding – the first scene in the film with the shooting down of the plane is claustrophobic and harrowing, starting the film immediately on a high. An extended sequence in an attic is masterfully paced too, as are some action sequences in the back-end of the film, but to reveal more would be to delve into spoiler territory. The violence in this film is particularly nasty at times, fully earning the film’s 18 certificate – this is not a film for the squeamish. Surprisingly, Overlord is one of the rare genre hybrid films that manages to be fully successful on that promise, whereas lots of films stumble on one of the aspects. (My original review here)

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14) Halloween 

Halloween (2018) is an excellent entry in the franchise and it is clear that the filmmakers have understood what made the original work. It is a thoroughly entertaining and mostly satisfying sequel that is very much in the vein of Carpenter’s original. The central idea of exploring the psychology of Laurie and how the events of the original affected her is a genius move and there are some excellent interactions between her and her family that are authentic to reality. Jamie Lee Curtis is in brilliant form in the role that made her a star and Andi Matichak as her grandaughter puts in a barnstorming performance and is surely a rising talent. Judy Greer, who is pretty much always the weak point of any film she’s in, is not bad here as Laurie’s daughter, which is an improvement from normal. This is the Halloween film that actually delivers on the promise of a true sequel to the original.  (My original review here)

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13) American Animals 

I watched Brimstone pretty close to compiling this list, so there is every possibility its position may move in the future. Bart Layton’s sophomore effort after The Imposter is a fascinating crime drama that interweaves with a docu-drama edge as we hear the real characters perspectives regularly throughout the film. The film is extremely intense in parts and is a fascinating character study on what are conflicted but ultimately pathetic characters. The score by Anne Nitikin is outstanding and the cinematography is visually sharp. American Animals is gripping from start to finish and is one of the freshest heist films in recent memory.

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12) Hereditary

Hereditary is one of the most interesting films of the year in that I’m still conflicted over aspects of this film. The first time I saw it, I loved the hypnotic first half which is just perfect but the second half then goes wildly into cliched horror territory. Whilst I still believe this to be the case to a degree, on further viewings, there are some clear hidden meanings and metaphors that somewhat justify the film’s second half. Despite my issues, this is still a terrific debut from director Ari Aster who is sure to have an interesting career ahead. (My original review here)

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11) Hostiles 

Hostiles is another winner from director Scott Cooper – a visceral, downbeat and often gut-wrenching watch. There are many scenarios and moments in the film that are emotionally sapping and Cooper puts these characters through hell. The three leads – Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi, are all on top form, all giving career-defining performances. The cinematography by Cooper-regular, Masanobu Takayanagi is jaw-dropping – there are frequent moments of awe in terms of how Takayanagi shoots the landscapes and he really makes the most of the locations, which refer visually to the Western classic, The Searchers. Max Richter’s score is also expectedly hypnotic – the score fits in so well with the film and is endlessly atmospheric, groaning and distorting with the sand flying around in the desert. The film isn’t perfect though – it does have some structural problems and some of the characters are underwritten. But for all the things Cooper gets right, Hostiles earns its spot. (My original review here)


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