Ranking The Predator Films

The Predator is currently playing in cinemas and whilst it is generally regarded as a wasted opportunity, 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:

predator-movie-review-image-header

4) 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

3) The Predator 

The Predator is the newest in the series 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. (My full review here).

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 is a fine entry in the series, what I’d really like to see are sequels / spin-off’s to this film as there is a lot of interesting places you can take this concept but unfortunately Predators didn’t do all that well at the box office and remains a very underrated entry in the series.


So, that was my ranking. I would say that there is not much in between the four films quality-wise – they’re all very solid and all pose some interesting ideas and between the best and worst on this list, there’s not a lot in it. Unfortunately, with The Preadator recieving very poor reviews and underperforming at the box office, I do hope we get more films as so far, they’re all very solid but only time will tell.


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

Advertisements

Ranking The Conjuring Films

With The Nun currently in cinemas and doing the best of all The Conjuring films at the box office so far, I thought now would be a good time to rank the films in the series so far. Whilst The Nun itself is very disappointing and the general consensus negative as well, these films have clearly made a big enough impression to draw dedicated audiences in to watch them. Certainly of all of the cinematic universes that studios have tried to start up post-Marvel, The Conjuring series is unquestionably the most successful so far. Unlike other big-budget films that studios hope will be successful enough to start their own series, with The Conjuring a horror franchise and their budgets relatively low, they all easily make a profit so perhaps this is one reason why it has had more success than others.

Here is my ranking:

ANNABELLE

5) Annabelle

Annabelle is unquestionably the worst of the series and has virtually no redeeming qualities to it whatsoever. Riding off the success of The Conjuring a year before, it is a blatantly unoriginal, preposterous cash grab that save for one very well orchestrated scare and beautiful cinematography, is a dud. Annabelle lacks any of the sense of dread The Conjuring has and the jump scares are obvious and uninspiring. The cast are uniformly terrible, in particular Ward Horton and the script is cringeworthy. Its ending is particularly offensive where characters make irrational and stupid decisions and I actually laughed at the film. It’s a film that looks like it should have gone straight-to-DVD. I struggle to think of how a horror film can be worse and this was a complete U-turn in quality for the series.

NUN_01591r.0

4) The Nun

The latest in the series, perhaps the simplest way of describing The Nun is by calling it a ‘beautiful disaster’. The film is an absolute trainwreck – the film is edited extremely badly, its overreliance on jump scares mean that it isn’t scary and the story is borderline incoherent. However, it would be very easy to just completely dismiss this film and rip it apart and unlike Annabelle, there are some redeeming qualities to The Nun

Director Corin Hardy is clearly a horror aficionado which shows in the film’s cineliteracy (there are allusions to some of the Hammer horror films for instance) and the film is quite atmospheric and establishes a chilling setting. For instance, there are some breathtaking shots of the exteriors of the monastery which really portray the grandeur and influence it has on its characters. This is by far, the most frightening aspect of the film and leaves a lot to audience interpretation. It’s strange then that Hardy resorts to jump scares, which are all poor and there is not a single memorable one in the film. It’s also strange that Hardy chooses to punish the characters in the worst possible way towards the beginning of the film. There is an extended sequence where a character is stuck in a grave, which is a horrifying scenario but anything that happens to this character afterwards is never as bad. Surely, this sequence would have worked better towards the end of the film? Despite these fatal mis-steps, all of Hardy’s good work in the film’s atmosphere is undone and squandered by how the film has been edited. Every scene films too brief and this really hinders in creating a creepy atmosphere. Somewhere here is a good enough film, but the way it has been edited completely undermines this and this results in The Nun ultimatelby being very disappointing. (My full review here

There is now a big step up in quality… 

3a1d3a4e4e1f450babc48b482c4d151a_compressed

3) 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, horror-maestro James 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)

1497965576937

2) Annabelle: Creation

Annabelle: Creation is a marked improvement over its predecessor and is suitably scary, features good character development and is shot beautifully by cinematographer Maxime Alexandre. It also ties itself nicely into the wider universe but not enough to detract from the film – director David F. Sandberg still manages to satisfy on a standalone level. One must applaud Sandberg for having a go at crafting many different types of scares and seeing what sticks and there are several sequences which are superbly crafted. Unfortunately, the film does stick to convention at times and there are a few sections bordering on comedy but it is so, so much better than its predecessor in every level. When the film works, it’s superb and it’s nice and tightly paced. It’s astounding how much of a shift in quality this is from the first film which had no hope. (My full review here)

the-conjuring1

1) The Conjuring 

The Conjuring is by far and away the best film in the series and also represents a career best for director James Wan, which this film really helped to propel his 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 will definitely be remembered.


Overall, although there is certainly variation between the best and worst in this list, this is ultimately a series that has generally been strong and with another Annabelle sequel, a third Conjuring film and another spin-off, The Crooked Man, I hope these are also worthy of the franchise’s name and I hope The Nun was just a blip.


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

Top Five Ben Mendelsohn Performances

ben-1.jpg

Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn features in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi extravaganza, Ready Player One, which releases today. Whatever film he is in, Mendelsohn consistently puts in a good performance and always integrates well into a wide genre of filmmaking.

I thought this would be a suitable time to have a look back at Mendelsohn’s career so far and count down his Top Five films. These films are based on both his performance in them and their quality.

DARK-KNIGHT-RISES_BEN-MENDELSOHN

5) The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises rounds off as the final film in Christopher Nolan’s superb trilogy extremely well. Mendelsohn plays John Daggett, a construction company owner who is a rival to Bruce Wayne’s enterprise. Although Mendelsohn only has a small role, he shares a particularly powerful scene with Tom Hardy’s menacing villain, Bane and Mendelsohn more than holds his own against the more popular villain here.

 

cess-on-set-the-place-beyond-the-pines-ryan-gosling-01-h

4) The Place Beyond The Pines 

Mendelsohn plays a small role as car garage owner and mechanic, Robin Van Der Hook in Derek Cianfrance’s ambitious crime drama. The Place Beyond The Pines follows Ryan Gosling’s motorcycle stunt rider who robs banks as a way to provide for his young child and part-way through the film, he works for Mendelsohn’s character. Robin is the catalyst for Gosling’s character to start robbing banks as well as having a polar opposite personality.

benmendelsohnslowwest1b1

3) Slow West 

Mendelsohn plays the villainous Payne in John Maclean’s barnstorming debut Western, further proof of the resurgence of the genre. The performances are incredible and Mendelsohn easily holds his own against Kodi Smit-McPhee puts in a career-best performance and Caren Pistorius’s terrific debut. The film also features a wonderful Jed Kurzel score and multiple electric set pieces.

Ben-Mendelsohn

2) Animal Kingdom 

Animal Kingdom is an ambitious Australian crime drama in the vein of Martin Scorsese, director David Michod inspired by the Pettingill criminal family. Mendelsohn plays Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody, the psychopathic eldest brother who will stop at nothing to evade the law and seek justice. He is a particularly dangerous character who poses a huge risk through main protagonist, ‘J’, and particularly as the film advances, we begin to see just the extent of how far this individual will go.

kts_06cf

1) Killing Them Softly 

Andrew Dominik’s follow-up to the superb revisionist Western, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, is an interesting beast in the genre, running at a brisk 90 minutes compared to the typical 3 hour epic gangster films. Mendelsohn plays dog kidnapper and heroin addict, Russell, who along with Scott McNairy’s, Frankie, target a game run with dire consequences. Mendelsohn’s character is so prickly and disgusting both in appearance and his ideologies and the actor perfectly encapsulates this nasty character. It’s a wonderful performance in a strongly different film.


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 hope this actor’s career continues to go from strength to strength.

Ready Player One is out now in UK cinemas 

Ranking The Best Picture Nominees

best_picture_new-split-h_2018

The Academy Awards have now been and gone and The Shape of Water ended up being triumphant edging out Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which took the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s by storm. Here I rank the Best Picture nominees in order of my own personal preference. Unfortunately, I have only recently managed to watch The Shape of Water and Call Me By Your Name hence why I am a little late.

Let’s get started… 

the-post-2

9) The Post 

Unfortunately, Spielberg’s rush to get the film has got the better of him as The Post is painfully mediocre. The film tries to make itself more important than it is and whilst the subject material is very compelling in itself, the way in which the film has been constructed is never gripping. Other than a strong scene near the beginning with acquisition of the documents, the first half of the film is very clunky and strangely, almost devoid of any tension. Whilst The Post does manage to find its footing a little more in the second half, the film is never as fascinating as it should be and feels very contrived. (My review here)

08-the-darket-hour-gary-oldman-w710-h473

8) Darkest Hour 

Much has been made of Darkest Hour for Gary Oldman’s transformative and unrecognisable performance as Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s new film, Darkest Hour, who completely disappears and inhabits the role and deserved his Best Actor win. However, in terms of how Darkest Hour functions as a piece of cinema though, it has some serious problems. From a historical viewpoint, the film is codswallop. A train sequence in particular towards the end of the film, pretty much derails the entire film from its tracks and it loses virtually all credibility. I could never get back on board with the film after this sequence threw me out so much and it hurts what is already a fairly mediocre film. (My review here)

call-me-by-your-name-2017-003-armie-hammer-timothee-chalamet-cafe-table_0

8) Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name is a mature exploration of sexuality and is particularly well and sensually directed by Luca Guadagnino, who fully captures the hot Italian climate as every frame feels opulent and sundried. The performances across the cast are all solid, with Michael Stuhlbarg the standout as an onlooking father. However, I wasn’t wowed by the film as a lot of people have been as it is rather langorous in pace at times and I just didn’t find as exciting or innovative as some of the other films featured on this list. But I certainly have a degree of respect for this film.

There is now a big step up in quality…

Bodega Bay

6) Dunkirk

A list where a Christopher Nolan film is only seventh! Whilst there is undoubtedly a lot to admire in ‘Dunkirk’, unfortunately I also have a lot of problems with it. It’s not a bad film by any means but Nolan misses the mark for me in a story that is too ambitious and hard to have any care towards. This was a point that kept cropping up in a lot of the more lukewarm reviews that I read prior to watching the film and I got a little bit annoyed as it seems as if those reviewers want convention. I can’t quite put my finger on it but the actual tone of the film seems off and I didn’t really find myself caring much for not just the characters but the actual event as the approach for me felt too conservative. It’s a very strange approach to take and I applaud Nolan for taking it but along with other reasons which I will discuss, I couldn’t find an emotional response. (My Review here)

Now we get to the excellent films:

It is at this point where this list gets excruciatingly tough and not as clear-cut as the other films in this list. I think the next five films are all outstanding and having to rank them was nigh-on impossible. There is every chance that the order of these five films could change and every notion that what is at fifth could become first – I just don’t know. For now, I’m basing it on gut feeling.

Film Title: Get Out

5) Get Out 

Get Out is an innovative and intelligent comedy-horror that is meticulously crafted and endlessly cine-literate. The concept behind this film is very original and is highly critical and satirical of the post-Obama presidency. Rose’s father even states in a recurring line that he “would have nominated Obama for a third term.” Its final third is particularly impressive as the narrative starts to gradually unravel, culminating in a collection of shocking sequences. It also features an interesting score by Michael Abels that is an eclectic mix of neck-prickling strings and melodic themes. The cinematography by Toby Oliver is also thoughtful and well-judged.  (My review here)

lady-bird-2017-001-saoirse-ronan-wall_0

4) Lady Bird

Lady Bird, the directorial debut of actress / writer Greta Gerwig, is a beautifully humane coming-of-age story of a teenager whose strong personality conflicts with her mothers equally volatile temper. It makes for a fascinating character study, containing plenty of scenarios and vignettes that run true to many home experiences of growing up. Gerwig’s script is particularly polished, mostly avoiding cliche, which keeps the story fresh and makes for a deeply personal insight into the film’s setting of Sacramento, where Gerwig herself grew up. Due to this great script, all of the cast excel in their roles with some brilliant performances from Saorise Ronan, Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts. (My review here)

phantom-thread1

3) Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread, for the majority of its run time, is engrossing and a masterclass in filmmaking. Just like Anderson’s other films such as There Will Be Blood and The Master, Phantom Thread is thematically rich, interrogating themes of duality and what it means to be in a relationship. It manages to balance its realism with fantasy and the film at times, evokes a Brothers Grimm tale. On one side of the spectrum, there are equisiste scenes of women being dressed up to impress their Princes and on the other, seemingly innocent women mushroom-picking in the forest. This Brothers Grimm quality to the film is juxtaposed by a Hitchockian / Kubrickian tone of voyeurism, mystery and intrigue. I’m just a little unsure on the direction the film heads in its final act, as it doesn’t quite conform to the neatness the first two have. I suspect on further rewatching, this film will continue to unpack itself and there is a lot more to gain from it. (My review here)

screen-shot-2017-09-14-at-9-49-54-am1

2) The Shape of Water 

The Shape of Water is a beautiful triumph from visionary director Guillermo Del Toro, who once again successfully interweaves and juxtaposes the supernatural to reality. The film takes inspiration from The Creature from the Black Lagoon and through Del Toro’s love of early cinema, infused with his darker work such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. The performances are all top-notch (although I think Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg or Doug Jones should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor, not Richard Jenkins) and I was hooked by the film throughout. It’s also got a wonderful score by Alexandre Desplat and is beautifully shot by Dan Laustsen. The Shape of Water is Del Toro’s best English-language film, though I think Pan’s Labyrinth remains his magnum-opus. (My review here)

And the best film is…

billboard2-0

1) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri proves McDonagh’s writing talent again and then some. McDonagh has such a great ear for dialogue in this film and there are so many wonderful exchanges of dialogue between characters. It is frequently comic, always entertaining and what I particularly love about this film, is it takes many unexpected diversions in its narrative. The film leads you to believe a certain plot point will go in one direction, but McDonagh in multiple instances, subverts expectations and this makes this film all the more fresh. There are many moments where I was genuinely in awe and shock. It is a biting drama about murder, investigating and how people have multiple sides to their personality. (My review here)

Summary

Overall, this is a mostly strongest collection of films nominated for Best Picture and certainly in my opinion, to have five out of nine be films that I love is very promising. That is of course, with the exception to Darkest Hour and The Post, both films which I can’t understand why they feature. The Shape of Water ultimately won the coveted award, which many took offence to, but it’s a deserving winner and rectifies the problem of some of Del Toro’s previous works being grossly misunderstood and underappreciated. That said, any of the top five would have made worthy winners.

 

Top Five Hugh Jackman Performances

greatest-showman-trailer-633x356

Releasing this Boxing Day in cinemas is The Greatest Showman, a musical with a star-studdded cast and the film has received three Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture in the Musical and Comedy category. In the lead role as American showman, P. T. Barnum is Hugh Jackman, who himself has recieved a Best Actor nomination for the film. In my opinion, Hugh Jackman always puts in a great performance in whatever film he is in and always elevates the material. He always tends to pick really interesting projects and portray characters in a wide range of genres as well.

I thought this would be a suitable time to have a look back at Jackman’s career so far and count down his Top Five films. These films are based on both his performance in them and their quality. To get them down to just five films was a real challenge, as he has put in so many great performances.

1251623 - Chappie

 

5) CHAPPiE 

I really struggled what to put in 5th and juggled between Darren Aronofsky‘s The Fountain and a guilty pleasure, Van Helsing, but I ended up letting CHAPPiE in. What all of these films share in common is the fact that they all recieved mixed reviews, but director Neill Blomkamp’s film is ultimately the most misunderstood. His third film after District 9 and Elysium saw his career crashing down and him being removed off an Alien film, but I think it’s a really thoughtful, entertaining piece. Jackman is particularly great in this film, playing against type as the mullet-wearing, hot-blooded villain, Vincent. Vincent is a South African former soldier-turned-engineer who is bitter when his Moose technology is turned away from his boss played by Sigourney Weaver and Dev Patel’s leading character’s android is given money for further development. Jackman is clearly having a ton of fun in the role and at times, his character is really quite nasty and it’s a departure from the norm for the actor.

mv5bnzuynzqymzu5of5bml5banbnxkftztcwmjgyndmymw-_v1_sy500_cr00751500_al_

4) The Prestige

The Prestige is a perfect film and is endlessly rewatchable. The plot is a masterclass by director Christopher Nolan and compared to a lot of his other films, is rather small in scale. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale both give tremendous performances in the lead role and the late David Bowie also stands out in a small role as Tesla. Jackman plays Robert Angier, a magician who comes into competition with Bale’s Alfred Borden and both characters go to extreme lengths to outdo each other. The film has many revelatory twists and features one of the best endings to a film ever. It’s a bit of a shame it’s never quite got the recognition it deserves, presumably being released between Nolan’s first two Batman films which are always going to be hotter property. But, The Prestige is a gem of a film and one not to be missed.

j4zzn9papf8hikhu97mi

3) The Wolverine

Perhaps a bit of an odd choice, The Wolverine is a perfect film up until its final act that does what most other comic book films can’t – not just be a great comic book film but also a great action film to boot. Many people point to Logan as the best X-Men film (which I think it might be), but this comes so, so close. Jackman channels the comic-book character most faithfully in this film when it was released, Logan is in pain, bitter and wild when the film first opens and the setting of Japan really suits the character’s quest for redemption. James Mangold’s film features some great action sequences particularly one on a bullet train and at a funeral.  Until its final action sequence that frustratingly descends into generic comic book territory, the film is a perfect adaptation of what a Wolverine film should be minus the R-rating which Logan then achieved.

17-logan-w600-h315-2x

2) Logan

Logan is not just a fantastic superhero film, it is also a fantastic Western film that just happens to have a superhero starring in it. The Western genre is a genre that is close to my heart so not only is it refreshing to be given another ace Western but for it to be in the shape of Logan is extremely impressive. The film is gritty, swearytastic and deliciously violent, fully earning the film a 15 / R rating. The performances by the cast all-round are great and returning director, James Mangold, directs this film with real flair. The film has a lot of emotional beats and really develops these characters that we have come to empathise with over the course of this franchise. The story, also manages to surprise with a couple of great twists and turns. Jackman, with the elevated age rating is finally allowed to swear which helps establish a sense of realism in the film and when the action arrives, detail certainly is dwelled upon. Jackman’s character has clearly aged and is fragile, even from something so simple as having to wear glasses to read. It’s a brilliant film and one that will certainly feature in my upcoming Best Films of 2017 list, placing 4th on my Mid-Year list.

prisoners02

1) Prisoners

Prisoners is my favourite film of 2013 and one of my favourites of the decade. Denis Villeneuve’s English-language debut is a harrowing, dark account of the kidnapping of a young girl and the subsequent investigation that ensues. Hugh Jackman plays the father, Keller Dover, whose multi-layered, fragmented character goes to extreme lengths to protect his family and uncover the identity of the kidnapper. This perfect film also features a brilliant score by Jóhann Jóhannsson which is wholly original and frequently haunting and is shot beautfully by Roger Deakins. For Jackman’s sake, he’s overshadowed slightly by Jake Gyllenhaal, who also puts in a career-best performance as Detective Loki but both performances are top-notch. If you haven’t seen Prisoners, go and watch it immediately and then take a look through the rest of Villeneuve’s filmography – he is one of the most exciting directors of our time and Jackman compliments this film perfectly.


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 hope this actor’s career continues to go from strength to strength.

The Greatest Showman is out now in UK cinemas 

Alternative Christmas Films

Christmas is almost upon us and when it comes to films, you probably think first of films such as Home Alone or It’s A Wonderful Life or Elf. Whilst they’re all classics in their own right, it’s always nice to have a change and watch something new from the usual catalogue. So here are five alternative Christmas films that you may not initially associate with the festival. These are not in order of quality or alphabeticised, but in order of obscurity.

53be46d0dbd8bdadb776c9eceeb3dd8ef5994b6e

Bad Santa

Bad Santa was and continues to be a great Christmas film – it manages to subvert the genre by essentially being an anti-Christmas film and is suitably raunchy and shocking. It also features a great central performance by Billy Bob Thornton as the titular character who really makes the character his own and as an audience, for all the character’s flaws, one can empathise with him. It has numerous standout sequences and is a film that holds up well to repeat viewings. Just ignore the sequel, which is a lazy, puerile and hateful film.

die-hard

Die Hard

As well as a brilliant action film, Die Hard is also in my opinion, a Christmas film with its setting and how this impacts on its characters. Bruce Willis is excellent in his inaugral outing as the wisecracking John McClane and the late Alan Rickman plays Hans Gruber, an evil German terrorist who takes a building and its employees hostage. Gruber is perhaps one of the best film villains of all time. Whilst the sequels are so-so, the original is a masterpiece.

lethal-weapon-1-danny-glover-mel-gibson

Lethal Weapon

To compliment Die Hard, the original Lethal Weapon also implores a Christmas setting and is a fantastic action film. Compared to its sequels (which are also great), Lethal Weapon is a far more serious affair and certainly not all that comedic. There are some really dark moments in this film and the violence is very nasty at times. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as the leads are fantastic, particularly Gibson’s turn as the suicidal Riggs.

ironman3_2013_08-h_2016

Iron Man 3

A superhero film at Christmas? Yes, there are quite a few of them and to add to this list, Tim Burton’s Batman films can also be regarded as Christmas films. My pick though would be Shane Black’s Iron Man sequel, a delightfully subversive film in the series and the Marvel canon in general. Black’s film takes a lot of risks and didn’t particularly go down well with audiences, but I’d strongly recommend watching this if you want a different Marvel film to the majority of the collection that has variations in its narrative. Oh, and it’s also got a great Guy Pearce performance and an even better Ben Kingsley one…

Film Title: In Bruges

In Bruges 

I might be cheating here a bit as this film’s connection with Christmas is through the characters description and likeness of the Belgian city to the festival.Regardless, In Bruges is one of my favourite films of all time so I had to try and get it in here somehow. Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes are perfect in their roles and the film is very darkly comedic and is endlessly quotable. It’s shot beautifully and Carter Burwell’s score is superb.  And with the Awards-nominated Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri due for release in a few weeks time, what better way to get started with Martin McDonagh’s filmography and watching a Christmas film at the same time…?


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

Top Five Oscar Isaac Performances

hd-aspect-1510676380-oscar-issac-esquire-interview-main

Oscar Isaac has got a little new film out this week which you may, just may, have heard of called Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the latest in the ever-popular and ever-expanding saga. With the one exception of X-Men: Apocalypse where he plays the titular villain and is made to constantly shout whilst looking uncomfortable in a blue outfit, Isaac always integrates seamlessly into any film he is in, elevating the material with his performances. He always tends to pick really interesting projects and a portray characters in a real range of genres as well. In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, he returns as Resistance Fighter pilot, Poe Dameron, in an expanded role after being introduced (and underused) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I thought this would be a suitable time to have a look back at Isaac’s career so far and count down his Top Five films. These films are based on both his performance in them and their quality.

81cqsw60xgl-_sl1500_

 

5) Drive

I’m generally not the biggest fan of director Nicolas Winding Refn and took particular offence last year to The Neon Demon, but Drive is probably his most accessible film. Isaac plays Carey Mulligan’s debt-ridden husband who has recently been released from prison. He hires Ryan Gosling’s stone-cold getaway driver for a job, which turns out to be a disaster but Isaac does really well as a character who wants to turn his life around and wants the best for his family.

hero_twofacesofjanuary-2014-1

4) The Two Faces of January

The Two Faces of January is the directorial debut of screenwriter Hossein Amini and a film that really holds up to repeat viewings, a kind-of Hitchock meets Agatha Christie blend. Oscar Isaac is excellent here as Rydal, a tour guide who scams tourists whose character arc is vastly developed as he meets The MacFarland’s, played by Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst. What works with the film and with his performance is you’re never really sure what his character intentions are and Isaac manages to portray this brilliantly. If you haven’t seen this film, definitely one to check out.

video-ex-machina-uk-trailer-1-videosixteenbynine1050

3) Ex_Machina

Alex Garland’s debut is tense and a slow-burn, yet a very philosophical watch and the film makes for a great character study. Isaac plays here as the CEO of a search engine company against Domhnall Gleeson’s computer programmer, who wins the opportunity to spend the week with him. Isaac has a very meaty role and as the film progresses, the film asks some tough, ethical questions of its audience which his character is central to. A different role for the actor, but one that he pulls off really well.

Inside Llewyn Davis: teaser trailer - video

2) Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis is an extremely underrated film in the director’s catalogue, with many quick to watch it and dismiss it. I loved it on first go and it gets better each time I rewatch it. Again, another new direction for Isaac who portrays the titular character, an individual who is trying to find his place in the world but finds himself constantly struggling. It’s a great film and one that I would rank really highly in the Coen Brothers’ entire body of work.

oscarissacamvyss

1) A Most Violent Year 

It has taken me a very long time to realize just how good A Most Violent Year is. I initially thought it was rather indulgent with there being a great 100 minute film in it. Since then, after rewatching it multiple times, I now consider it to be a masterpiece. You may have read when I wrote my favourite films from that year, I placed it at 12th – I’d probably now go about 5th. The film is paced so well and there are so many perfectly orchestrated scenes in the film. As well as trying to convince you to go and watch this film, you also get a career-best performance from Oscar Isaac here. Isaac’s performance channels many other crime drama’s, for example The Godfather and his character has so many layers to him. A Most Violent Year is a most incredible film.


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 hope this actor’s career continues to go from strength to strength.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is out now  in UK cinemas 

Ranking The Comic-Book Films Of 2017

With 2017 bringing us a slew of comic-book films, 7 to be exact (6 live-action, 1 animation) and them all receiving very different receptions now would seem like a suitable time to rank them. Although comic-book films are increasingly prevalent every year at the moment in the film industry with 2016 jumping up to 6 releases, 2017 further continues this trend.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to chug along and this year, we’ve had 3 new films – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok. Marvel continue to prove with these films in their general reception that they are the current juggernauts and things look very promising indeed for next year’s big team-up which these films culminate in – Avengers: Infinity War.

2017 has been an even more important year for DC in their quest to also prop up a cinematic universe, like Marvel. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were both received very negatively last year (I liked BvS a lot and can just about give a pass to Suicide Squad) so 2017 has been very important in them proving why they should also have a share of the market. 2017 saw the releases of Wonder Woman, which practically did a U-turn for the DCEU in its brilliant reception. Although Justice League, the culmiation of the DCEU films thus far which sees our favourite superheroes team up, wasn’t received nearly as well, in terms of reception, people have accepted it a little more than either of 2016’s releases. The Lego Batman Movie also features in this list, which is not an official entry in the DCEU but it’s still a comic-book film nonetheless based on the DC character of Batman.

The trend of comic-book films aimed more towards adults , which kicked off with Deadpool last year, continues with Marvel’s solo X-Men offering this year, Logan and it is also Hugh Jackman’s swansong as the character.

So this hasn’t just been a typical year in this genre hence why I have felt the need to rank them. Let’s get started!

lego_batman

7) The Lego Batman Movie

The Lego Batman Movie is a film of two halves – its first act is particularly impressive and constantly cracks jokes left, right and centre and is surprisingly very cine-literate. The opening sequence which is a fight between Batman and the Joker is particularly well-crafted and the gags keep coming at a rapid pace and there is so much to absorb on-screen, little references to the character and previous incarnations scattered across the screen – it is pure eye-candy. The voice cast are generally pretty strong and Lorne Balfe’s score is generally competent and there are a couple of memorable, dark and brooding themes that elevate the narrative, particularly in the opening fight sequence. Unfortunately, the film completely tanks in its second half. The reason why it tanks, primarily is because it chooses to go down a specific narrative which I won’t spoil but it really doesn’t do the film any favours. Part of why the first act works really well is because the filmmakers are clearly respectful of the source material but all that respect goes out of the window in the second half and this very much becomes a film centered for children. (My full review here)

HAR_DM_FIRST LOOK RND F04

6) Justice League

I debated whether to put Justice League in last position because between this and The Lego Batman Movie, at least the latter has a brilliant first half. But because that film so violently tanks in its second half and at least, Justice League has a bit more promise, it just edges that film out. Still, Justice League is an absolute mess and is the result of again in the DCEU, too many cooks in the kitchen. Snyder and Whedon as filmmakers pull in completely different directions, with Whedon injecting more humour into the film whereas Snyder has always been the more visionary filmmaker. Whilst I was watching the film, I never felt the stakes faced against these characters and the film has no sense of flow. 120 minutes is a very short run time for the story this film tries to tell and is the shortest DCEU installment thus far. The film neglects to develop its new characters of Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash that it introduces and has a very forgettable, one-dimensional CGI villain with typical end-of-the-world antics. One also has to wonder what this fim could have been. I’m confident that if we ever see a Snyder cut of the film, it will be leaps and bounds ahead of the theatrical cut and could really elevate the film. (My full review here)

hero_got2-2017

5) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is unevenly paced and overstuffed but the amount of heart it has allows it to just about be successful. Gunn hasn’t made your typical sequel but the story he chooses to tell is all over the place and at times, incoherent. The film retains much of the heart the first film had and this is what allows the film to work better than a film such as Avengers: Age of Ultron or X-Men: Apocalypse which were lunk-headed, equally overstuffed and had zero heart. Gunn manages to further expand the mythology of this sub-universe of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Guardians of the Galaxy are very much an important and established strand of this behemoth. I just wish the film was better. It is only because of the characters and the amount of attention invested in them that I can just about be positive in my overall opinion. (My full review here)

And now for the good one’s…

wonder-woman-2_72

4) Wonder Woman 

Wonder Woman is immensely enjoyable for a long strength of its lengthy runtime, has a lot of heart and is surprisingly quite human for a comic-book film. Action sequences are used quite sparingly in this film, Jenkins really puts these characters at the forefront and develops them strongly. The performances, pretty much across the board, are excellent and the film looks great visually. Unfortunately, it does fall into the trap of stumbling in its final act where it becomes quite formulaic and contrived but until this point, it is a very fine film and definitely the strongest DCEU film so far. (My full review here)

oz7zbvvqwmimvlglm7ud

3) Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok is a Taika Waititi film through and through – it retains his signature humour and really inverts expectations on what a Thor film should be. This feels refreshingly different from the first two films, more vibrantly coloured and more comical. The film is extremely entertaining and puts the characters that we have grown to like over the course of the films in rather vulnerable positions throughout the film and there is a real sense of danger prevalent. Unlike recent comic book films which have a great, big (and boring) action climax at the end of the film to save the world, Thor: Ragnarok actually earns its finale. The marketing for this film has also been extremely impressive upon viewing the final product – there’s a lot that Marvel have managed to withold from its audiences which is very satisfying. (My full review here)

spider_man_homecoming_df_28509_r2_r-0

2) Spider-Man: Homecoming

It was a tough choice where to place this with Thor: Ragnarok but ultimately Spider-Man: Homecoming, to my surprise, was more of a breath of fresh air in what has been quite a convoluted genre of late. I thought it struck just the right tone between seriousness and humour and it is a very realistic and grounded film in the Marvel canon. It also features one of the best villains we’ve had in Michael Keaton’s Vulture who is extremely sinister and narcissitic. The whole cast are generally excellent and I was really invested in the narrative that Watts portrays. Watts also does well to not aim too high in terms of visual effects and although there are a couple of impressive action sequences, they never reach the heights of some of the other Marvel films which further helps to keep this film very grounded. (My full review here)

And the best comic-book film of 2017 is…

17-logan-w600-h315-2x

1) Logan 

There was never any competition as to which film would get the top spot as Logan absolutely floored me in terms of how good it was. It’s not just the best comic-book film of 2017, it’s also one of the best films overall of the year. Logan is not really a superhero film, it is more of a Western film that just happens to have a superhero starring in it. The Western genre is a genre that is close to my heart so not only is it refreshing to be given another ace Western but for it to be in the shape of Logan is extremely impressive. The film is gritty, swearytastic and deliciously violent, fully earning the film a 15 / R rating. The performances by the cast all-round are great and Mangold directs this film with real flair. The film has a lot of emotional beats and really develops these characters that we have come to empathise with over the course of this franchise. The story, also manages to surprise with a couple of great twists and turns. I’m not sure if it’s better than The Wolverine but it is definitely equal to it and both of Mangold’s efforts are the best comic-book films since The Dark Knight. (My full review here)



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


 

Top Five Roger Deakins-shot Films

MCDVILL EC035

With Blade Runner 2049 out in cinemas and Roger Deakins’ spectacular cinematography within it, I thought now would be a suitable to list my favourite work of his. Deakins is one of the best cinematographers of our time, all of his works rich in memorable imagery and scope. To prove my point, Deakins still hasn’t earned an Oscar for his work despite being nominated 13 times, who along with George J. Folsey, holds the record for the most Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography without a win.  I’m hoping Blade Runner 2049 corrects this crime as he does some fantastic work again and it would be a nice amalgamation of his work if he were to win. Please note that I am not ranking the following films based on their quality, I am ranking them based on the quality of Deakins’ cinematography. Without further ado, here are my Top Five Roger Deakins-shot films:

fargo-1996

5) Fargo 

I really, truly struggled on what to have as my 5th choice. I debated between Prisoners, Skyfall, Kundun and The Shawshank Redemption, I ultimately chose Fargo, one of two Coen Brothers’ films that feature on this list. Not only is Fargo one of their best works, a rich and darkly comic crime thriller with some fantastic performances, it is heightened by Deakins’ awe-inspiring cinematography that perfectly encapsulates the isolated community both through the characters that live within it but also its chilly climate. Out of the five films on this list, this seems as though it was probably the easiest film to shoot but Deakins does so much with so little and manages to attain the sense of a boring, bland habitat of America the Coens wanted to shoot this gem of a film on.

head-photo-e1494267811280

4) Blade Runner 2049

Deakins’ latest project sees him reteam with Denis Villeneuve (the first of two films directed by him on this list) and whilst I have some problems with the film on first viewing, I have no problems with Deakins’ cinematography at all. His work truly elevates the film and distinguishes between the macro and micro elements of the world created. A fight sequence in a theatre is particularly wonderfully staged as is a three-way sex scene. Every single shot by Deakins feels meticulously crafted throughout the film and there are many instances in the film where my jaw dropped in amazement. Deakins was the perfect choice to take over from Jordan Cronenweth’s work on the original and he takes respectful inspiration from him. Surely this must earn him the Oscar this year? (My review here)

sicario

3) Sicario

The second of the two Denis Villeneuve films on this list, Roger Deakins’ work on Sicario is sublime. The film contains some exhilarating action sequences to its merit, the highlight being Deakins’ shooting of what is possibly one of the most intense traffic jams in cinematic history and very creative use of night vision for an action sequence set underground. Deakins is able to distinguish between the binary oppositions of good and bad, light and dark, urban and rural, America and Mexico through his use of lighting and contributes to the panic-inducing, kept-in-the-dark feeling the film manages to sustain throughout its run time. For Deakins’ sake, it’s a shame that The Revenant was released in the same year which cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki blew all the other nominees out of the water but any other year, Sicario would be a fine winner. (My review here)

54mtduytphs-9lci_2fli6ppcs2ekfbq_h264_3800_640x360_360437827814

2) No Country For Old Men 

The second of the two Coen Brothers films on this list, No Country For Old Men is Deakins at his best. In this revisionist Western, Deakins beautifully contrasts the light and dark, both physically and metaphorically with the rich and vivid characters portrayed on-screen. There are multiple instances where Deakins’ work is just jaw-dropping, particularly in Javier Bardem’s scenes and an extremely intense shoot-out in a hotel and the surrounding vicinity late on into the film.

8-3

1) The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford 

For me, there was never really any competition – my favourite Roger Deakins-shot film is The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Deakins makes maxiumum effect of this Western period setting and his cinematography is dream-like. A train robbery sequence early on in the film at night is simply staggering and Deakins maximises and juxtaposes the use of lights (through lanterns and natural light) and shadows. It’s a very sensory and human experience. Deakins also makes use of his self-titled ‘Deakinizers’, blurred effects around the border of a frame by taking old wide angle lenses and mounting them onto other cameras which really help attain the period feel of the film. Both this film and No Country For Old Men were nominated for the Best Cinematography Academy Award but lost out to Robert Elswit for his work on Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. This is the film that should have won and not only is the actual film incredibly underrated, this by far is Deakins’ best work.


So there we go, there’s my personal Top Five. It was an extremely tough task and there are a lot of other works of his that are fully deserving to be of mention. What are your opinions of his work? What are your favourite Deakins-shot films? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister


Blade Runner 2049 is currently playing in UK cinemas 

 

Ranking The Films Of Darren Aronofsky

NOAH

With Darren Aronofsky’s latest film ‘Mother!’ making a distinctive impression this September, now would seem a suitable time to do a ranking of his filmography thus far. Aronofsky is one of my favourite film directors and most of the time, makes extremely thoughtful and original films. Even the weakest film on this list, I have respect for. So without further ado, here is how I would rank Aronofsky’s films.

Pi - 1998

7) Pi 

The only film I don’t like by this filmmaker, ‘Pi’ is, in my opinion, a self-indulgent, loud and annoying slog with a pathetic main character. Perhaps I need to rewatch it a few more times but it’s just a film that I cannot get into. It’s not a ‘bad’ film by any means and it’s certainly very surreal in sections and I do have respect for its ambitions. It just doesn’t seem as magical or as enticing as his other works. That’s not a bad thing – I enjoy some of his other films that others have not so if there’s something here that people revel at, it clearly works on some levels. It’s certainly not a film a mainstream director would be allowed to make in this day and age!

Now for the excellent films…

screen-shot-2017-08-01-at-11-43-10-am

6) mother!

I still haven’t really made up my mind on ‘mother!’ and I doubt I will until I have watched it a few more times. The first two acts are particularly grim and brooding and develop really neatly into what is a bonkers third act. I think I enjoy the film more for its conceptual nature rather than the actual film itself which I found a little hard to get into at times. That said, the film has made a very long lasting impression on me and I keep thinking about it. Aronofsky crafts some really strong and memorable images and I really enjoyed the characterisation. ‘mother!’ reinforces my love of film and is why I continue to be enamoured with the medium of film. It’s films like ‘mother!’ that challenge their audiences and aren’t just acceptable and dumb that really keep me driven.  I’m not really sure (and it is surely deliberate by Aronofsky) what the film means but on first viewing, I found the film to be delirious, deeply allegorical, manic, paranoid and genuinely unnerving. ‘mother!’ is definitely a film that deserves and I appreciate exists. This film has the potential to crawl up the list as time passes but for now, I have to put it 6th. You can read my full review here.

the-fountain-movie-image

5) The Fountain

‘The Fountain’ is a rather misunderstood film and received mixed reviews on its release. It is frequently enthralling and is a pure spectacle to behold on screen – it’s very impressive to see what one can do with a limited budget. This is in my opinion, Aronofsky’s first explicit exploration of religion and is perhaps one of the director’s most personal films. It features great performances across the board and features a magnificent score by Aronofsky-regular Clint Mansell and stunning cinematography by Matthew Libatique. So why it doesn’t it rank any higher? Its pacing feels rather disjointed and the film is a bit of a slog in parts and goes too quickly in others. A more ruthless editor who knew how to assemble the film in a better way, I’m sure would have put this up there with his best films.

There is now a big step-up in quality…

black-swan-1200-1200-675-675-crop-000000

4) Black Swan 

‘Black Swan’ is perhaps Aronofsky’s most mainstream offering and certainly elevated his oeuvre with a Best Director Oscar nomination. It is a dark, panic-inducing film that tackles a strangely hypnotic and hegemonically calm sport. Natalie Portman is electric as the titular character which she won an Oscar for and the cast is rounded out by Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder who all put in very convincing performances.

 

wrestler1

3) The Wrestler

‘The Wrestler’ is a subdued and melancholic investigation into its main character, played magnificently by Mickey Rourke in a comeback role. Rourke is outstanding as Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson who is a calm yet determined character and Marisa Tomei co-stars here too in what is perhaps a career best performance for her. ‘The Wrestler’ builds up to an outstanding conclusion and features outstanding cinematgraphy by Maryse Alberti, a departure from Matthew Libatique and a subtle yet memorable Clint Mansell score.

noah

2) Noah

‘Noah’, a passion project for Aronofsky is perhaps one of the most unconventional and controversial mainstream film of recent times. It delivers visually with some visceral action sequences and fantastical creatures yet is a strangely adult film for its 12 rating. It tackles some really controversial and hard to stomach themes and is in many ways, a morality tale. Russell Crowe is outstanding here as the titular character and across the board, the cast are brilliant with Emma Watson perhaps making the best impression as the barren Ila. ‘Noah’ really narked audiences off and religious devotees but this is a really special film that goes against the grain and really delivers. And again, Clint Mansell’s score and Matthew Libatique’s cinematgraphy once again elevate the film!

And the best Darren Aronofsky film is…

cgizadwstadsmjqsxgb8

1) Requiem For A Dream 

‘Requiem For A Dream’ is my pick for my favourite Darren Aronofsky film and is perhaps one of my favourite films since 2000 so far. It is a hallucinogenic, nerve-wracking, depressing experience that will put anyone off narcotics far more effectively than a school drugs talk. Aronofsky experiments with form and imagery and Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is especially kinetic and unnerving. Clint Mansell’s score is one of the most haunting of our times and has gone on to inspire many other films. It is a note perfect film and doesn’t degrade on each rewatch. It is a masterpiece.


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