Best Films of 2021 (10-1)

This is the second part of my Best Films of 2021 feature detailing my Top Ten films. Click here to read numbers 25 to 11.

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten films of 2021:

10) The Little Things 

Sure to be an unpopular choice, for the majority of the run time of The Little Things, I was enamoured by the atmosphere, the development of the characters and the performances. Denzel Washington and Rami Malek make a great pair, Washington particularly convincing as the experienced but unorthodox sheriff. The Little Things is a neo-noir crime thriller that heavily wears its inspiration of David Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac on its sleeve. Director John Lee Hancock lends an assured hand to the material, allowing the film a familiar feel that revels in its atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the film runs into murky water in its final 15 minutes with its controversial ending. Granted, it is original but I found it very anti-climatic, abrupt and like a big nothing and more than a little underwhelming. Hancock justifies the decision to end the film in this way. The film could easily for me have gone on for longer to solve its central mystery, but the film isn’t really interested in this and is more focussed on character. It is easy to understand the mixed reception to The Little Things but until its ending, I found it to be a riveting drama that is very cine-literate.

9) 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. 

8) Minari

Minari is an affecting and amiable portrayal of a hard-working, but down on their luck Korean family who are trying to carve out their own American dream. Directed by Lee Isaac Chung, Minari follows immigrant Jacob Yi (Steve Yeun), who is fed up of working in a chicken hatchery in California and moves his young family to a considerable piece of land that he has brought in rural Arkansas with a rickety mobile home. The interplay between the family is excellent and the performances poignant. The highlights are of course, Youn Yuh-Jung, whose Oscar win for her turn as the grandmother is excellent, deftly balancing the comedic elements of the role with some powerful sequences in the third act. Steve Yeun is also commendable as Jacob and his plight for success is piercing to the audience, as is Han Ye-ri as Monica. The film is technically beautiful with dream-like cinematography from Lachlan Milne, the families land seeming other-worldly and distant. Emile Mosseri’s predominantly piano and woodwind based score is also soul-stirring in its ethereal quality.  

7) Candyman

Candyman is an accomplished and thought-provoking update in the series and cements director Nia DaCosta as a new talent to watch. This spiritual sequel is a continuation of the story established in Bernard Rose’s original Candyman, an equally stimulating entry that has aged well even today. DaCosta’s film ignores the two sequels, both of which failed to garner critical acclaim, the second of which was one of director Bill Condon’s early works. 

Yahya Abdul-Matteen II plays Anthony McCoy, an artist who is suffering from writer’s block who lives with his girlfriend, Brianna (Teyonah Paris) who is an art gallery director. His writer’s block subsides once he learns of the Candyman legend and this suddenly gets his creative juices following until the horror legend starts to come to life and consume his mind. 

Directing from a script which Get Out and Us director Jordan Peele contributed to, Nia DaCosta makes an electric impression behind the screen. Whilst the influences of Peele can be felt in the film’s interrogation of gender, race and sexuality, DaCosta impresses with her cineliteracy, particularly with the exploration of the theme of the double through the use of mirrors and mirrored reflections. Art is explored as a mirrored reality and Anthony is unsettled at his reflection. There are some arresting sequences in the first act of the film where images are inverted and disorienting, setting a foreboding atmosphere. This is complimented by Robert Aubrey Aiki Lowe’s brilliant score and soundscape and it’s refreshing to see him craft his own memorable themes as well as revisit Philip Glass’ original themes, which really elevated the original film.

6) Stillwater

Stillwater is the long awaited follow-up from writer-director Tom McCarthy, after his last film Spotlight won the Best Picture Oscar back in 2016. Despite the film drawing some controversy due to its parallels with the Amanda Knox case, Stillwater is an excellent crime drama that is played on a more human scale and centres on one of Matt Damon’s best performances.

Matt Damon plays unemployed oil-rig worker Bill Baker who frequently journeys to Marseille from the small town of Stillwater, Oklahoma to visit his daughter, Allison Baker (Abigail Breslin). Allison is five years into her nine year prison sentence after being convicted of killing her university roommate, Lina. Bill is a man of few words and works in order to afford the trips to France. When Bill is in France on a visit, there is an opportunity for the case to be reopened and he fights for his daughter to be exonerated. He has difficulty with the language barrier and the French bureaucracy system. Many locals in the city are aware of the case and know what his daughter did. After a fortuitous chain of events, befriends Virginie (Camille Cottin) and her young daughter, Maya and they all take a reciprocal liking to each other.

Stillwater has a satisfying yet searing narrative and the character relationships are admirably developed, particularly between the central trio of Bill, Virginie and Maya. Bill is essentially given a second chance at fatherhood, after he proclaims that he screwed up in the past. If you can accept the fact that Stillwater is merely inspired from Amanda Knox and doesn’t follow the case to the letter, then you have what is one of the best films of the year. 

5) Old

Old is another bonkers concept by the auteur M. Night Shyamalan, and tonally is somewhere between Get Out and The Beach, infused with The Twilight Zone. It is a frequently profound and is an intense, nightmarish exploration into the themes of life and maturation. The film follows a group of people who find themselves on a beach where they seem to be ageing rapidly. A scene between two old characters facing worsening eyesight and deafness is beautiful, as their memories are worsening and losing the concept of space and time. Shyamalan deftly balances these profound moments with freakish body horror and violence, one sequence in particular involving a knife is particularly harrowing and well shot. That said, the film could have benefitted from portraying more of these bloody images rather than most of the violence being portrayed off-screen, although the on-screen horror that Shyamalan decides to portray is enough to earn the film a 15 age rating.

Old is a strong and unapologetic effort from Shyamalan and is further evidence of his career resurrection following Split and (controversially) his best film Glass, if you get on board with the narrative. 

4) Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead, visionary director Zack Snyder’s first film post-DC, is a total blast from start to finish. Snyder is no stranger to the zombie thriller genre as his first film was Dawn of the Dead, a very solid remake of George A. Romero’s original. This is not connected to Dawnbut does take some inspiration from other Romero works. Snyder crafts a fascinating world here and there is some interesting political sub-text. Ethical questions are posed that draw parallels to the current American political climate and treatment of migrants. We are introduced to a diverse set of characters that are going to carry out the heist operation. Whilst the character tropes are fairly conventional and some characters aren’t really fleshed out, this is a zombie film after all and it’s inevitable that some of the cast are only introduced to die. The film is a visual treat and Snyder, who acts his own cinematographer for the first time, does a commendable job in building a convincing post-apolocalyptic world that doesn’t feel too far removed from how it is currently. The film is bursting with colour and Snyder leans into the creative kills and gore that earn the film its 18-rating with joyful glee, the opening credits to the film being particularly memorable. He balances this with some suitably dour darker lit sequences that highlight the origins of the Alphas and their leader Zeus, who is particularly well developed as a villain, and fits in perfectly with Snyder’s horror roots. Army of the Dead is further proof that Snyder works best when he is not restrained by a film studio.

Now into the top #3…

3) No Time To Die

No Time To Die represents Daniel Craig’s swan-song as James Bond, whose films have proved to be the most consistent out of all the actors to play Ian Fleming’s spy. This is an operatic and thrilling finale to the Daniel Craig era that takes some ambitious risks in its narrative. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s fingerprints can be felt all over the film from the Japanese memorabilia to the more intimate character moments. The first half an hour gave me goosebumps with an opening tinged in horror and then an emotive initial action sequence. Fukunaga explores a more personal side to Bond and excitedly departs from established franchise formula. The film is beautifully shot by Linus Sandgren, who makes the various travel destination locations look intoxicating.  

No Time To Die is a thoroughly thrilling send-off for Craig and it will be interesting to see how James Bond is regenerated in future instalments, given how this film ends. It doesn’t bottle out and Craig’s films cement themselves as the most consistent.

2) Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Who would ever have thought that two Zack Snyder films, a director of great controversy, features twice in a ‘Best’ list?! Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the director’s cut of the film Snyder tried to originally make before butting heads with Warner Brothers executives and then departing the project after a family tragedy. The end result was a crushing disappointment that was a schizophrenic mess that represented a clash of two opposing styles of direction with a feeling that it felt unfinished. Fans have petitioned for Snyder’s original vision and the movement began on social media with the hashtag #RestoreTheSnyderCut. After many months of speculation, Snyder then revealed that he had most of a finished cut completed and it was up to Warner Bros to release it. Fans continued to push for its release in their numbers and the ‘Snyder Cut’ was announced in May 2020. Warner Bros granted Snyder an additional $70 million to finish the film and it now sees the light of day in its full 242 minute glory.

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 Zack 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. 

So the best film of the year is…

1) I Care A Lot  

From start to finish, I Care A Lot is really excellent with a riveting and thought-provoking story with a collection of morally bankrupt characters. Rosamund Pike plays Marla Grayson, a morally bankrupt but cool-as-a-cucumber con artist who preys and scams on the older generation by becoming their ‘legal guardian’ and sending them to a care home, whilst she profits from selling their property and assets. Perhaps some of the twists the film takes in its third act aren’t quite as fresh as the beginning and it begins to move away from its smart commentary in the first two acts on the elderly generation. The notion that this could happen to you when you are older is genuinely frightening and really doesn’t feel that far removed from reality. Director J. Blakeson has markedly developed and this is a thrilling and thoroughly original concept.


So there we go, these films were in my opinion the best of 2021. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister

Best Films of 2021 (25-11)

Compared to 2020 where cinema was in a state of paralysis, 2021 represented a year where the film industry got back on track. Make no mistake, the coronavirus pandemic still affected film releases and the first quarter of the year got off to a shaky start with many films continuing to head to streaming. Streaming has continued to rise in popularity, with Amazon and Netflix the dominant players and Disney+ and Apple TV+ not trailing too far behind.

Having had the chance to sample much of what 2021 had to offer, I now feel ready to share my best films of the year. I know that I am 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. 

Generally, 2021 was a sound year for film and although the quality wasn’t as high as 2019, there were still some barnstorming works of art released for all to savour. The second half of the year really picked up as the mid-year list didn’t represent a particularly strong start to the year.

Here I rank numbers 25 to 11. The Top Ten will be detailed in a separate post so stay tuned for that.

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 are from 2020. 

25) Dune   

The long-awaited adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel following David Lynch’s flawed take, Denis Villeneuve gets a lot right choosing wisely to only adapt the first half of the labyrinthyne story. Dune especially impresses in how it skilfully spins a coherent narrative that is relatively straightforward enough to follow. It’s certainly not a requirement to have prior knowledge of the material before watching this. 

Villeneuve’s adaptation is particularly cine-literate and the world-building is remarkable. He beautifully captures the arid and nomadic conditions of Arrakis and juxtaposes this with the water-rich yet isolated imagery of Caladan and the black nightmare of the House of Harkonnen. Dune is a visual spectacle and Villeneuve’s anger towards the film receiving a simultaneous streaming release in certain territories is justified. 

The film is particularly strong in its first act, as it sets the stage for conflict and establishes its sizeable roster of characters. The second and third acts become increasingly action-heavy and build on the spectacle. The performances all-around are excellent, although there are some characters who are short-changed that will have a greater presence in a second film. As well as Timothee Chalamet who makes a seamless transition from smaller fare to this behemoth of a project, Stellan Skarsgård is the standout as the levitating and grotesque antagonist Vladimir Harkonnen, who is used sparingly and is brought to life through visual effects.

Dune yet again cements Villeneuve as one of the key directors of our times and I hope the second part lives up to this chapter.

24) Reminiscence

Reminiscence is the feature film debut from Lisa Joy, one of the creators of hit Western sci-fi television series, Westworld. Unfortunately, the film was maligned on release but I found it to be is a thoughtful and satisfying neo-noir sci-fi that tells an engaging story, even if some of its story beats are clearly indebted to other film noir. This is partly intentional in that the very act of reliving one’s memories is to experience nostalgia. The film feels like a melding of Chinatown and Blade Runner with some of the beginnings of the ambitions of scale on display in Inception. Joy tackles some heady themes such as how we use and abuse our past and forget to live in the moment, as well as the obvious critical commentary on climate change and the rich-poor divide. 

Hugh Jackman gives a typically committed performance, proving his continued versatility across genres. Technically, Reminiscence is very competent and Paul Cameron’s cinematography beautifully captures the intricacies of the sinking city and the seedy goings on when its citizens are alive at night, under the protection of the dark. Lisa Joy’s direction is to be admired with her high-concept and there are a couple of excellent action sequences that are sparse but interspersed in the story. A scene in a bar with a tank full of eels feels like a microcosm of the Western sci-fi fusion of Westworld and there is a kinetic rooftop chase sequence. Joy reunites with Westworld composer Ramin Djawadi, who provides an exciting, predominantly guitar-based score.  

Reminiscence is a lot better than expected and is a well-realised concept that is a rewrite or two away from being something really impactful. I’m very glad it exists as films like this don’t really get made anymore, especially with a unique female vision.

23) Last Night In Soho   

Last Night In Soho is another sharp and entertaining piece from The Cornetto Trilogy and Baby Driver director Edgar Wright. It is meticulously crafted and is bursting with nostalgic nods to various 1960s iconography. Wright is clearly in love with the era, from the period correct posters of Thunderball to the decor in the sleazy but dazzling clubs of Soho that lead character Sandie (Thomasin McKenzie) finds herself in. In many ways, this feels like Wright’s most personal film. There are some good twists in the plot that keep the story fresh and the last act takes the story in an interesting and satisfying direction. The film is interestingly a Giallo horror with its macabre murder mystery, hallucinatory quality and visual aesthetic. 

Not everything works in the film. The contrast between the 1960s and the present day can be quite jarring in its tonal shifts and the mirroring between Eloise and Sandie isn’t always coherent in how Eloise experiences Sandie in her dream-like state. When the film leans into its horror elements more in the second half, it doesn’t always work as the ghosts that Eloise experiences aren’t particularly well realised visually and Wright doesn’t attempt to build tension or even try to scare audiences – the lucid hauntings and gore are meant to be what is frightening rather than what isn’t portrayed on-screen. 

Although uneven, there is a lot to admire in Last Night In Soho and it wildly succeeds in its story and the warmth that it brings to the 1960s of Wright’s vision. This is a really solid film to add to Wright’s back catalogue, even if it represents a departure from his comedic works. 

22) Eternals

The first Marvel Cinematic Universe film entry to receive mixed reviews, I found Eternals 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, Eternals boasts 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.

21) The Power Of The Dog

The Power Of The Dog is an atmospheric, slow-burning yet fascinating character study from revered director Jane Campion. It features some brilliant performances, Benedict Cumberbatch gives possibly a career-best performance as Phil, a man with a masculine crisis. He conveys the seething and bullish nature of the character perfectly, going to great depths with his method acting by chain smoking to the point of nicotine poisoning and refusing to bathe and interact with Kirsten Dunst. A scene mid-way in the film where Rose is practicing the piano for a later dinner is particularly chilling as she struggles to perform the piece and Phil cruelly plays it faultlessly on his banjo out of sight. This is a masterful performance and one of the best of the year. 

The Power Of The Dog is an enigmatic experience with powerhouse performances. It is deserving of its praise and the unexpected fierce ending creeps up on you. Although the film is slow in its pacing, the ending asks the audience to reconsider what you have witnessed and you’ll want to watch it again to piece the character motivations, where it is a richer and more multi-layered experience. 

20) House of Gucci   

The first of two Ridley Scott directed entries in 2021, House of Gucci is a solid biopic and succeeds mainly on its performances and its gripping story. It is rather scattershot narratively in that it covers a lot of ground in a reasonably long run time but the film never really feels like it has a chance to breathe as it tries to cover too much. Scott also doesn’t quite master the balance between camp and serious and the film uneasily oscillates between the two tones. 

The characters are gleefully horrible and this is a sprawling exploration of the timeline. Lady Gaga is deserving of her praise in the lead role, a tempestuous character who descends further into delirium. It is impressive that this is her second major feature film role after A Star Is Born and she more than fends her own against the experienced cast. Adam Driver is also excellent as the more level-headed yet savvy Maurizio and provides an interesting contrast to Gaga in his more sober performance. Al Pacino is typically passionate as Maurizio’s Uncle, Aldo and Jeremy Irons is chilling as the decadent yet increasingly vampiric Rodolfo. Then, there is Jared Leto, who has received a mixed reaction to his performance, some labelling it as Awards worthy and others citing he is acting in a different film. I would position my opinion somewhere in the middle – he tries to do something different but isn’t too outlandish and the performance worked for me. There is one particular scene between Leto and Pacino and for Leto to outshine Pacino when he is in full-Pacino mode is no mean feat.

19) Antebellum

Antebellum is a really interesting debut from directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz and I’m very glad it exists, particularly in the context of a ‘Make America Great Again’ society. Positioned as a female-centered nervous mix of The Twilight Zone and 12 Years A Slave with more than a heavy dose of M. Night Shyamalan infused in the mix, Antebellum follows Janelle Monae’s Eden, who is a slave on a plantation in what appears to be Civil War-era America. About forty minutes in, she wakes up as renowned sociologist Dr Veronica Henley and audiences are drawn to the parallels between both narratives and how they might be connected. The first and third acts are particularly riveting even if the film sags in the middle, where there are some overly preachy speeches and a misjudged character played by the normally reliable Gabourey Sidibe. The plantation sequences are particularly uncomfortable to watch for a film of this genre and the cinematography by Pedro Luque and menacing string-based score are stunning. 

It’s a shame that the reception to this film has been fairly negative, with many finding the film to be exploitative, its twist not justifying the brutal violence and that its violence is torture porn. I would strongly disagree and would argue that the sadistic violence assists in creating a stronger verisimilitude. I can’t wait to see what Bush and Renz go onto make next and hope that they continue to take risks and are not deterred from the negative critical response.

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

Another Marvel Cinematic Universe entry, 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.

17) The Last Duel

The Last Duel has a lot of positive aspects, in particular the fascinating and ambitious narrative concept of its Rashomon structure. We witness the same events from different perspectives and audience allegiances are challenged when we see conflicting accounts. The first two perspectives from the duellists are where the film is best, as they directly compliment each other. I found it particularly intelligent how Matt Damon’s performance changes between his account, where he presents himself as a stable and patriotic individual to Le Gris’ perspective of him where he is an embarrassing and oafish presence. The final perspective from Marguerite is also insightful in that women are regarded solely for transactional purposes. It’s interesting that many viewers have cited her telling as the ultimate truth but I think it is far more nuanced in that we don’t witness certain scenes of the film that the first two chapters highlight, invoking that even she isn’t as innocent as she presents herself. The culminating duel is fantastically realised by Scott and is an intense and bloody spectacle that ranks as one of his best set pieces. 

16) The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It represents a welcome change of direction compared to the first two films in that it delves from the haunted house formula and is more of a police procedural crime thriller. The story the film is based on is riveting, even if some creative liberties have been taken with it for it to fit the horror genre. The performances are all excellent, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warren’s again are the centrepiece of the franchise and the film expands and revolves around their strong relationship. Director James Wan is not behind the camera this time around and the film is directed by Michael Chaves, who directed a previous entry, The Curse Of La Llorona. Chaves’ direction attempts to ape Wan’s from the use of title cards and a prologue sequence at the beginning to the general tone of the film. However, when it comes to the horror aspect of the film, Chaves just does not craft the scares in as sophisticated a fashion as Wan. I was riveted from start to finish but there is always the question of what if this film had been directed by James Wan and I think if had, the result here would have been extraordinary. If the film doubled down on its scares or chose to eliminate them completely and spent longer developing its characters and establishing the stakes, this could have been a masterpiece.

15) The Nest

The Nest is director Sean Durkin’s second film, whose delicate and poignant debut thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene featured Elizabeth Olsen in her breakout role – it’s well worth checking out. This sophomore effort is centred around a family of four in the mid-1980s America who relocate to the UK. The Nest is a riveting character study and features powerhouse performances from Jude Law and Carrie Coon. Durkin excels in creating an eery atmosphere of constant unease with a hint of supernatural horror, bolstered by Son of Saul’s Mátyás Erdély’s frenetic yet dreamy cinematography. The Nest is an absorbing and intelligent character study. 

14) CODA

CODA is directed by Sian Heder and is an English-language remake of the 2014 French-Belgian film, La Famille Bélier. The film follows Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), a teenager in her final year of high school who isn’t sure what the future holds for her. She is the titular CODA (child of deaf adults) and the only hearing member of her family as her brother, Leo (Daniel Durant) is also deaf. Ruby effectively has the unenviable task of acting as the family interpreter, given her fluency in American Sign Language. The family run a struggling fishing business, which Ruby is expected to help in full-time once she has completed her studies. However, Ruby has aspirations to be a singer but struggles to express her passion in her music class, due to a history of bullying having spoken differently as a child. 

CODA is an effortlessly heart-warming coming-of-age drama that is elevated by some brilliant performances. Emilia Jones steals the film with a sensational central performance as Ruby, an endlessly relatable teenager who struggles to fully fit in with her peers. She is between a rock and a hard place with her family as they are over-reliant on her help, to the detriment of her own wellbeing and life. This is, without a doubt, one of the best performances of the year. Generally, the film is paced perfectly and there are many sequences that are impossible to watch without anything other than a beam on your face. This is a crowd-pleasing film that intimately explores the deaf experience and its hearing protagonist’s young adult experience is endlessly relatable and touching. 

13) Malignant

Malignant is a welcome and wholly original return to the horror genre for director James Wan. Wan has had an impressive career to date, establishing himself as a top-tier horror director, launching three very different but highly successful franchises – Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring. He has since turned to bigger budget mainstream fare such as Furious 7 and Aquaman. It is always a promising sign when a director chooses to revisit their roots and tackle a lower budget original concept. Malignant has been marketed very much in the same vein as a supernatural horror film, more in line with Insidious and The Conjuring, but the result is very much not. 

Like Last Night In Soho, Malignant is Wan’s interpretation of a Giallo horror and this is a fascinating film that embraces a camp tone. It is an ambitious risk for the director and the story 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.

12) Those Who Wish Me Dead

Those Who Wish Me Dead is the latest from writer-director Taylor Sheridan and in keeping with his back catalogue, is another film that explores the modern American frontier. It is yet another original and commanding effort from Taylor Sheridan. It is frequently thrilling and as is customary for the writer-director, there are some interesting twists narratively and in its portrayal of gender. The way in which Sheridan introduces the characters allow the audience to be two steps ahead of them, which is thrilling as we can predict how they will likely act when all the pieces fall together later in the film. Sheridan is again able to extract some excellent performances from the cast. Angelina Jolie makes for a commanding screen presence, haunted by what she feels is her mistake, and this is a solid project for her to pick in her acting comeback. Gillen and Hoult make for an unstoppable reckoning as the assassins. 

11) Another Round

Another Round is a high concept tragicomedy from director Thomas Vinterberg who re-teams with the ever-versatile Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen plays Martin, a jaded and uninspired History teacher who is struggling to enthuse his students and has a stale relationship with his wife and kids at home. 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. 


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

Top Ten Films Of 2021 – Mid-Year Report

July has arrived and that means it’s time for my annual mid-year review of my favourite films of the year so far. As is to be expected, there are still a few films that I am still yet to see but I have tried to get through all the films that I have been looking forward to or the films that reviews have been good for. As usual, I am following the UK release date calendar between January and June. As you are about to see, there are some Awards films included in this list but these have all been released within this time period in the UK.

Top Ten Films Of 2021 – Mid Year-Report

10) Nomadland

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

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

9) Nobody 

Nobody is directed by Ilya Naishuller and provides a vehicle for Bob Odenkirk as Taken and John Wick did for Liam Neeson and Keanu Reeves. It is far from an original concept but it is very entertaining and its main asset is Bob Odenkirk’s electric and deadpan performance. There are some kinetic action sequences, particularly a sequence in a bus and the climax. Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography is far more first-person POV than the longer shots in John Wick, very much in the vein of Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry and unlike his more showy work on Hereditary and Midsommar. Also unlike John Wick, Hutch Mansell is a far more vulnerable character and he doesn’t come away from his fights unscathed. There are many occasions where he is battered in the process. Christopher Lloyd also has some strong moments, particularly in the third act as Mansell’s father, as does RZA as Hutch’s brother. When the film is at its best, it really is a hoot and Naishuller has a clear understanding of the mechanics of B-movie, trashy exploitation pieces in his direction. (Full review here)

8) Antebellum

Antebellum is a really interesting debut from directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz and I’m very glad it exists, particularly in the context of a ‘Make America Great Again’ society. Positioned as a female-centered nervous mix of The Twilight Zone and 12 Years A Slave with more than a heavy dose of M. Night Shyamalan infused in the mix, Antebellum follows Janelle Monae’s Eden, who is a slave on a plantation in what appears to be Civil War-era America. About forty minutes in, she wakes up as renowned sociologist Dr Veronica Henley and audiences are drawn to the parallels between both narratives and how they might be connected. The first and third acts are particularly riveting even if the film sags in the middle, where there are some overly preachy speeches and a misjudged character played by the normally reliable Gabourey Sidibe. The plantation sequences are particularly uncomfortable to watch for a film of this genre and the cinematography by Pedro Luque and menacing string-based score are stunning.

It’s a shame that the reception to this film has been fairly negative, with many finding the film to be exploitative, its twist not justifying the brutal violence and that its violence is torture porn. I would strongly disagree and would argue that the sadistic violence assists in creating a stronger verisimilitude. I can’t wait to see what Bush and Renz go onto make next and hope that they continue to take risks and are not deterred from the negative critical response. (Full review here)

There is now a marked step-up in quality…

7) The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It represents a welcome change of direction compared to the first two films in that it delves from the haunted house formula and is more of a police procedural crime thriller. The story the film is based on is riveting, even if some creative liberties have been taken with it for it to fit the horror genre. The performances are all excellent, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warren’s again are the centrepiece of the franchise and the film expands and revolves around their strong relationship. Director James Wan is not behind the camera this time around and the film is directed by Michael Chaves, who directed a previous entry, The Curse Of La Llorona. Chaves’ direction attempts to ape Wan’s from the use of title cards and a prologue sequence at the beginning to the general tone of the film. However, when it comes to the horror aspect of the film, Chaves just does not craft the scares in as sophisticated a fashion as Wan. I was riveted from start to finish but there is always the question of what if this film had been directed by James Wan and I think if had, the result here would have been extraordinary. If the film doubled down on its scares or chose to eliminate them completely and spent longer developing its characters and establishing the stakes, this could have been a masterpiece. (Full review here)

6) Those Who Wish Me Dead

Those Who Wish Me Dead is the latest from writer-director Taylor Sheridan and in keeping with his back catalogue, is another film that explores the modern American frontier. It is yet another original and commanding effort from Taylor Sheridan. It is frequently thrilling and as is customary for the writer-director, there are some interesting twists narratively and in its portrayal of gender. The way in which Sheridan introduces the characters allow the audience to be two steps ahead of them, which is thrilling as we can predict how they will likely act when all the pieces fall together later in the film. Sheridan is again able to extract some excellent performances from the cast. Angelina Jolie makes for a commanding screen presence, haunted by what she feels is her mistake, and this is a solid project for her to pick in her acting comeback. Gillen and Hoult make for an unstoppable reckoning as the assassins. (Full review here)

Now into the Top Five…

5) The Little Things

The Little Things is a neo-noir crime thriller that heavily wears its inspiration of David Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac on its sleeve. Denzel Washington stars as a grizzled detective, Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon who crosses paths with recently appointed lead Detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek). The two of the them team to investigate a string of serial murders and their search leads them to a strange loner (Jared Leto), who may or may not be the culprit. Director John Lee Hancock lends an assured hand to the material, allowing the film a familiar feel that revels in its atmosphere. Although familiar, for the majority of The Little Things, I was enamoured by the atmosphere, the development of the characters and the performances. Denzel Washington and Rami Malek make a great pair, Washington particularly convincing as the experienced but unorthodox sheriff.

Unfortunately, the film runs into murky water in its final 15 minutes with its controversial ending. Granted, it is original but I found it very anti-climatic, abrupt and like a big nothing and more than a little underwhelming. Hancock justifies the decision to end the film in this way. The film could easily for me have gone on for longer to solve its central mystery, but the film isn’t really interested in this and is more focussed on character. It is easy to understand the mixed reception to The Little Things but until its ending, I found it to be a riveting drama that is very cine-literate. (Full review here)

4) Minari 

Minari is an affecting and amiable portrayal of a hard-working, but down on their luck Korean family who are trying to carve out their own American dream. Directed by Lee Isaac Chung, Minari follows immigrant Jacob Yi (Steve Yeun), who is fed up of working in a chicken hatchery in California and moves his young family to a considerable piece of land that he has brought in rural Arkansas with a rickety mobile home. The interplay between the family is excellent and the performances poignant. The highlights are of course, Youn Yuh-Jung, whose Oscar win for her turn as the grandmother is excellent, deftly balancing the comedic elements of the role with some powerful sequences in the third act. Steve Yeun is also commendable as Jacob and his plight for success is piercing to the audience, as is Han Ye-ri as Monica. The film is technically beautiful with dream-like cinematography from Lachlan Milne, the families land seeming other-worldly and distant. Emile Mosseri’s predominantly piano and woodwind based score is also soul-stirring in its ethereal quality.  (Full review here)

Now into the Top Three…

3) Army Of The Dead 

Army of the Dead, visionary director Zack Snyder’s first film post-DC, is a total blast from start to finish. Snyder is no stranger to the zombie thriller genre as his first film was Dawn of the Dead, a very solid remake of George A. Romero’s original. This is not connected to Dawnbut does take some inspiration from other Romero works. Snyder crafts a fascinating world here and there is some interesting political sub-text. Ethical questions are posed that draw parallels to the current American political climate and treatment of migrants. We are introduced to a diverse set of characters that are going to carry out the heist operation. Whilst the character tropes are fairly conventional and some characters aren’t really fleshed out, this is a zombie film after all and it’s inevitable that some of the cast are only introduced to die. The film is a visual treat and Snyder, who acts his own cinematographer for the first time, does a commendable job in building a convincing post-apolocalyptic world that doesn’t feel too far removed from how it is currently. The film is bursting with colour and Snyder leans into the creative kills and gore that earn the film its 18-rating with joyful glee, the opening credits to the film being particularly memorable. He balances this with some suitably dour darker lit sequences that highlight the origins of the Alphas and their leader Zeus, who is particularly well developed as a villain, and fits in perfectly with Snyder’s horror roots. Army of the Dead is further proof that Snyder works best when he is not restrained by a film studio. (Full review here)

2) Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Who would ever have thought that two Zack Snyder films, a director of great controversy, features twice in a ‘Best of’ list?! Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the director’s cut of the film Snyder tried to originally make before butting heads with Warner Brothers executives and then departing the project after a family tragedy. The end result was a crushing disappointment that was a schizophrenic mess that represented a clash of two opposing styles of direction with a feeling that it felt unfinished. Fans have petitioned for Snyder’s original vision and the movement began on social media with the hashtag #RestoreTheSnyderCut. After many months of speculation, Snyder then revealed that he had most of a finished cut completed and it was up to Warner Bros to release it. Fans continued to push for its release in their numbers and the ‘Snyder Cut’ was announced in May 2020. Warner Bros granted Snyder an additional $70 million to finish the film and it now sees the light of day in its full 242 minute glory.

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 Zack 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. (Full review here)

So the best film of the year is…

1) I Care A Lot  

From start to finish, I Care A Lot is really excellent with a riveting and thought-provoking story with a collection of morally bankrupt characters. Rosamund Pike plays Marla Grayson, a morally bankrupt but cool-as-a-cucumber con artist who preys and scams on the older generation by becoming their ‘legal guardian’ and sending them to a care home, whilst she profits from selling their property and assets. Perhaps some of the twists the film takes in its third act aren’t quite as fresh as the beginning and it begins to move away from its smart commentary in the first two acts on the elderly generation. The notion that this could happen to you when you are older is genuinely frightening and really doesn’t feel that far removed from reality. Director J. Blakeson has markedly developed and this is a thrilling and thoroughly original concept. (Full review here)

Reflection on 2019 so far…

Whilst there have been a handful of excellent films so far this year, there have been so many disappointments. Most of the films featured in this list are a tier below previous mid-year lists and this is probably the weakest start to a year since 2011/12. Most films so far this year have either been pretty solid or above average but there have been a couple of unexpected stinkers. It’s surprising that films 10-8 feature on a ‘Best of’ list as they all have their problems and you’ll notice that I have omitted an ‘Honourable Mentions’ section this year.

Here’s hoping for a stronger second half of the year and films that look like they have potential include:

–  Black Widow
– Old
– Riders of Justice
– The Suicide Squad
– Stillwater
– The Green Knight
– Reminiscence
– The Night House
– Candyman
– Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings
– Malignant
– Prisoners of the Ghostland
– No Time To Die
– The Last Duel
– Halloween Kills
– Dune
– Last Night In Soho
– Antlers
– Eternals
– Spencer
– The Card Counter
– Cry Macho
– House Of Gucci
– Encanto
– Spider-Man: No Way Home
– The King’s Man

However, it is important to note that this is not a definitive list and these titles are just a few picks scattered across the remainder of the year that have piqued my interest.


  What are your thoughts? Tweet @TheFilmMeister or leave your ideas in the comments

Best Films Of 2020 (10-1)

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

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten films of 2020:

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10) Jojo Rabbit 

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

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9) The Trial Of The Chicago 7

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

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8) Just Mercy

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

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7) Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga

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

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6) Richard Jewell

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

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5) Soul

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

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4) The Devil All The Time 

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

Now into the top #3…

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3) The Gentlemen 

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

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2) The Invisible Man 

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

So the best film of the year is…

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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.


So there we go, these films were in my opinion the best of 2020. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister

Best Films Of 2020 (20-11)

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

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

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

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

Note

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

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20) Escape From Pretoria   

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

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19) The New Mutants 

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

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18) Unhinged

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

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17) Tenet

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

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16) Color Out Of Space

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

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15) Uncut Gems

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

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14) Queen And Slim 

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

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13) Mank

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

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12) A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood 

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

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11) Da 5 Bloods 

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


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


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

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


 

Best Films of 2019 (10-1)

This is the second part of my Best Films of 2019 feature detailing my Top Ten films. Click here to read numbers 20 to 11 and the Honourable Mentions.

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

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10) Green Book

Green Book is a thoroughly enjoyable film with some outstanding performances from both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. The script is sharp and provides some fascinating insights into America’s prejudice culture and racism of the time. The interplay and relationships between characters is also excellent, who I really got on board with from the start. It is well-directed by Peter Farrelly and fantastically paced. Green Book provided a controversial win at this year’s Oscars as it ultimately took the coveted Best Picture gong. Whilst I really like it as a film, the controversies surrounding how it represents race and ethnicity are valid. It is unashamedly a white saviour narrative and the film does perpetuate stereotypes. These are questions that come up after watching the film and although it does somewhat tarnish the quality of the film, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Green Book. (Full review here)

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9) Boy Erased

Boy Erased is the sophomore effort from actor-now-director Joel Edgerton whose debut The Gift was a masterpiece. Boy Erased is a completely different film and is a drama about a teenager who is forced to undergo homosexual conversion therapy program. The cast are all excellent, Lucas Hedges gives a nuanced performance as the conflicted main character and Russell Crowe is a standout as his authoritarian and religious father. Joel Edgerton casts himself as the head of the program and he is a particularly sinister and nasty piece of work. The score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is fantastic and the film is visually dark and gloomy. Boy Erased is another success from Edgerton and it will be interesting to see where he goes next.

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8) Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile 

Joe Berlinger’s feature film on Ted Bundy is the perfect companion to his Netflix docu-series on the notorious serial killer. The entirety of the cast are on top form here, Zac Efron continuing to prove his versatility in the lead role as the deranged murderer, as he continues to shake off the High School Musical stigma. Berlinger skilfully encapsulates the key facts in this biography into a feature film run time and all of the characters are developed well. By the time the film gets into its final act, the stakes are really well set. The critical reception to this film has been rather mixed with many arguing it is a watered-down version of the Netflix series, but for me the film does more than enough to act as a companion piece.

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7) 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, this is not Tarantino’s best work and he is being recognised for the wrong film in this year’s Oscar Awards but this is still a total blast from start to finish.

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6) Triple Frontier

Triple Frontier is the latest from director J. C. Chandor, who previously made A Most Violent Year which I really liked when it first came out and upon further viewing, I now deem to be a masterpiece as it is a film rich with layers, a terrific narrative and conflicted characters. My expectations were very high for this film, a crime heist thriller with Ben Affleck and Chandor reuniting with Oscar Isaac. This is another excellent film by Chandor and it successfully takes what can be a rather conventional genre into a new direction in the way it explores certain themes and the repercussions the heist has on the group. The score by Disasterpeace is intense and the film looks visually sharp. I was engrossed by the film throughout and Chandor manages to sustain the tension throughout.

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5) The Mule 

The Mule is a gripping film that ramps up the tension throughout its run time and has a commanding, grizzled performance from Clint Eastwood. Eastwood has played this type of gruff character many times throughout his impressive career but it still works, particlarly when paired with the fascinating story.  The film also teaches some well-intentioned messages and morals and there’s an admirable relationship within Stone’s family that felt authentic and also the relationship between Eastwood and Bradley Cooper’s DEA agent. I also really liked how Eastwood humanized the drug cartel members which results in some memorable characters for Eastwood to interact with. In fact, the script by Nick Schenk, who also wrote Gran Torino which is another excellent Eastwood film, is razor-sharp and efficiently paced. Much like The Old Man and the Gun, another recent release which tackles many of the same themes as this film, The Mule interrogates the existential themes of what makes Eastwood’s character work and why he continues to work for the cartel when he knows what he is doing. (Full review here)

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4) 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)

Now into the top #3…

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3) Glass 

Glass is an excellent end to this trilogy and mostly represents M. Night Shyamalan at his best – it is pretty much a knock-out. Shyamalan develops these characters extremely well, furthering their character arcs and subverts expectations, for better or worse for some viewers. It is very cine-literate and further deconstructs the generic constructs of the superhero genre and offers some fascinating commentaries on these. As is to be expected, there is a Shyamalan twist and it does undo the good work a little as it isn’t one of his best twists but if you can buy into the film’s central conceit beforehand, it really is excellent. As with a lot of Shyamalan’s filmography, it would be very easy for one to laugh and sneer at this film, as the film walks a fine line. The performances are uniformly excellent, with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson standing out. Technically, Glass succeeds in spades too. The score is outstanding, West Dylan Thordson returning from Split and successfully melding both past themes whilst creating some memorable new ones. DP Mike Gioulakis is also great and there are numerous shots which are just a work of art to look at. I sincerely hope that in a few years time, this film will be reassessed as it’s been really unfairly recieved. (Full review here)

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2) Doctor Sleep

To my dismay and against all the odds stacking against it, Doctor Sleep is an enthralling sequel to The Shining that is refreshingly different from its predecessor but still has some spiritual connections. It is frequently mesmerising and has a fascinating narrative at its core. The characters are well-developed and Flanagan establishes some emotional narrative stakes. Of course, there does not need to be some connection to what has come before it and the third act returns to The Overlook Hotel. The film does dip a little into fan service here but not enough to derail the entire film. But it is the first 2 hours are so that are really, really strong. Speaking of the 152 minute run time, this is a film that earns its length. There are so many standout scenes here and Flanagan does an excellent job of conjuring dread. A scene with Rebecca Ferguson astral-projecting mid-way through is just stunning and a shootout at the end of the second act are the highlights. Overall, Doctor Sleep is a surprisingly great sequel that holds it own with Kubrick’s original.

So the best film of the year is…

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1) Dragged Across Concrete

S. Craig Zahler does it again. His first film, Bone Tomahawk reached very highly in my 2016 list and his second, Brawl In Cell Block 99 took top honours in 2017. Dragged Across Concreteis another wonder from this top director. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are both brilliant as two policemen who are suspended after brutally treating a suspect and take matters into their own hands. Tory Kittles is also great as a recently released man who reunites with his family and finds himself intertwined in this case. There are also small roles from Zahler-regulars Fred Melamed, Udo Kier and Don Johnson. The script is once again fantastic and the film deals with the themes of wealth and righteousness very assuredly. Dragged Across Concrete foregoes some of Zahler’s usual ultraviolence and there is nothing here that rivals the violence in his first two films – bear in mind though the film still has an 18 certificate. But instead, this is an equally well-developed narrative that is fascinating throughout and the third act is well-worth the interesting build-up. I think Brawl In Cell Block 99 remains Zahler’s best film but this is another winner and it will take quite a lot for something to top this.


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

Best Films of 2019 (20-11)

Although cinema has come to a virtual stop as we know it in these pandemic times, having now had the chance to catch up on some 2019 releases, I can now share my Top 20 Films of the year. I know that I am very late in the game but there were quite a few films I didn’t get to watch in time and felt that it would be a disservice to generate a list that wasn’t truly reflective of the year. 

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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Vox Lux 

A jarring yet hypnotic effort from actor-director Brady Corbet, Vox Lux tells the story of Celeste Montgomery, a young girl who survives a school shooting rampage who then embarks on a singing career but she is always haunted by this terrifying event. Both Raffey Cassidy and Natalie Portman who portray the singer at two stages of her life are terrific. Technically, this film is arresting but the two main acts to the story feel like two different films. A very interesting but flawed effort and it is always better when a filmmaker takes a risk.

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Beautiful Boy

Based on two memoirs, Beautiful Boy is the story of a relationship between a father and a son, with the son’s life spiralling out of control as he becomes more dependent on crystal meth. Steve Carell continues to prove that he is a versatile actor outside of comedy and he conveys his despair and hope as his son’s life yo-yos. Timothée Chalamet is equally excellent as the son, Nic. There’s not much hope in this story and whatever hope the film builds up is often swiftly removed but this is a raw and real story of addiction and the detrimental effects it can have on life.

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Birds of Passage

The lastest from Colombian director Ciro Guerra, this is a sprawling drama about a generation of family and how their lives intersect, a complete U-turn from the linear but magical Embrace of the Serpent. There’s a lot to like here with Guerra painting a grim and arid world which is frequently hard-hitting on his characters.

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Fighting With My Family

The first film on this list to feature Florence Pugh, I really didn’t expect to like this. But Fighting For My Family is a gripping, often hilarious and emotionally involved directorial debut from Stephen Merchant about a young female boxer in Norwich and her efforts to go pro. The performances all round are great, particularly Florence Pugh and Nick Frost. Merchant deftly balances the humour with emotional heft, even if the film follows a hegemonic sports-drama narrative.

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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 onto the Top Twenty:

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20) The Good Liar  

A real surprise from director Bill Condon whose work has been more miss than hit over this decade. This is a taut, riveting mystery with two excellent performances by Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren, both as devious and deceptive as each other. The script is razor-sharp with plenty of twists and turns, infused with humour. Perhaps the end reveal is lacking a little but for the vast majority, this is excellent and Condon’s best film in a very long time.

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19) The Nightingale

A real surprise addition to this list. I really didn’t like director Jennifer Kent’s debut feature The Babadook, which received rave reviews. I didn’t find it scary or sophisticated in the slightest. But The Nightingale is excellent in that it starts at a very low point for Aisling Franciosi’s main characterm, Clare, and doesn’t let up with its depressing and dour tone. After everything that she has is taken away from her, Clare embarks on a dangerous journey to enact her revenge. This has a lot to say on a lot of topics such as the Aboriginals and the performances are all excellent, Franciosi impressing and Sam Claflin being uncharacteristically nasty compared to his other roles. This is a film that really earns its 18 certificate and many viewers have expressed unease at some of the sexual violence.

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18) Official Secrets

Official Secrets is another political thriller from director Gavin Hood, his previous being the note-perfect Eye In The Sky. Official Secrets isn’t quite as good but this is a very timely and riveting docudrama on the UN involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This is one of the performances of Keira Knightley’s career, who portrays the courageous Katherine Gun.

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17) Midsommar

After impressing with Hereditary, Midsommar is writer-director Ari Aster’s sophomore effort. Hereditary really impressed in its perfect first half before a controversial twist half-way through which changes direction. Midsommar is a much more consistent film but doesn’t match the first half of Hereditary. Florence Pugh is fantastic as the titular character who has gone through a tough time and although she is needy on her boyfriend, Aster wildly succeeds in us sympathising with both situations. They take a trip to Norway to meet a cult where one of their friends belongs. Partly inspired by The Wicker Man but more sophisticated and rich, Midsommar furthers the horror genre again with its disregard for jump scares. It’s also impressive how the horror is all set in crystal white daylight.

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16) Ma

Ma seriously took me by surprise. After the disappointment that was The Girl On The Train, Ma is a lean and mean horror by director Tate Taylor. Octavia Spencer is phenomenal as the titular character and Taylor always keeps the audience second-guessing. What propels this from average fare is the strength of the group of teenagers that are tormented. Diana Silvers is excellent and there is a real emotional core to her story.

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15) Polar

Perhaps one of the most controversial choice on this list, Polar got absolutely trashed by critics in its reviews. A Netflix Original, Polar 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 how it manages to balance sheer grittiness, often at the same time. 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.

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14) Can You Ever Forgive Me?  

I generally can’t stand Melissa McCarthy but this is the film for me where she proves herself and she is just magnificent as a down-for-luck author who starts forging letters by famous writers and selling them. Richard E. Grant is also brilliant as her new friend who is battling his own demons. Director Marielle Heller clearly has respect for these characters and deftly balances laugh-out-loud moments with some touching and emotional character development too. The script is really sharp and allows both McCarthy and Grant to play off each other consistently.

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13) Us 

Us is an ambitious sophomore effort from Jordan Peele and although it doesn’t reach the heights of Get Out, this is a cryptic and atmospheric horror film that is full of originality. Peele deals with some heady themes of duality and race and intentionally makes some of the metaphorical meanings in this film ambiguous. The film can be interpreted in a number of ways and further viewings allow this film to be unpacked even more. This is a really interesting film from Peele and even if it doesn’t always succeed, one has to admire the ambition.

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12) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum 

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is a very strong entry in the franchise. Chapter 2 was good but it did feel a little repetitive and lost some of the charm from the first film. This third chapter is a step-up that almost reaches the heights of the first film. The fight choreography is wonderful and particualrly in the first half, it is amazing how much variation in the types of action Stahelski portrays. Keanu Reeves is on top form again and the film furthers the mythology the first two films explored in the criminal world the titular character finds himself tied in. Visually, the film is gorgeous as well, cinematographer Dan Laustsen capturing the neon, visceral quality beautifully. The film ends in a place where further sequels could happen but if the series stopped here, this would be a great trilogy.

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11) Sorry We Missed You  

Sorry We Missed You is another knockout from director Ken Loach. Like I, Daniel Blake a few years ago, this film also is concerned with the struggles of the lower class. This is about a family where the husband joins a delivery company who have strict targets to meet and he has to finance his own van. The children are also developing and the wife has to take public transport to her job as a carer. This is all touching stuff and the film succeeds in portraying a grim decay into a vicious cycle.


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

Top Ten Films Of 2019 – Mid-Year Report

Although rather late, I am finally ready to share my usual mid-year report of the Top Ten Films of 2019 so far. As is to be expected, there are still a few films that I am still yet to see but I have tried to get through all the films that I have been looking forward to or the films that reviews have been good for. As usual, I am following the UK release date calendar between January and June. As you are about to see, there are some Awards films included in this list but these have all been released within this time period in the UK.

Honourable Mentions

As always, there are a handful of films that didn’t quite manage to make it into the Top Ten. They all had their specific problems, but the reason why I feel they should be listed is because I found them all to either be entertaining, heartfelt or have some very interesting ideas even if they didn’t quite make it into the Top Ten. As I feel they deserve a mention, I will list them below:

–  Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
–  Ma
–  Birds of Passage
–  Captain Marvel (Review here)
–  Shazam!

Top Ten Films Of 2019 – Mid Year-Report

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10) Polar 

I’m sure for many a controversial choice, Polar got absolutely trashed by critics in its reviews. A Netflix Original, Polar 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 how it manages to balance sheer grittiness, often at the same time. 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.

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9) Can You Ever Forgive Me? 

I generally can’t stand Melissa McCarthy but this is the film for me where she proves herself and she is just magnificent as a down-for-luck author who starts forging letters by famous writers and selling them. Richard E. Grant is also brilliant as her new friend who is battling his own demons. Director Marielle Heller clearly has respect for these characters and deftly balances laugh-out-loud moments with some touching and emotional character development too. The script is really sharp and allows both McCarthy and Grant to play off each other consistently.

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8) Us 

Us is an ambitious sophomore effort from Jordan Peele and although it doesn’t reach the heights of Get Out, this is a cryptic and atmospheric horror film that is full of originality. Peele deals with some heady themes of duality and race and intentionally makes some of the metaphorical meanings in this film ambiguous. The film can be interpreted in a number of ways and further viewings allow this film to be unpacked even more. This is a really interesting film from Peele and even if it doesn’t always succeed, one has to admire the ambition.

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7) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum 

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is a very strong entry in the franchise. Chapter 2 was good but it did feel a little repetitive and lost some of the charm from the first film. This third chapter is a step-up that almost reaches the heights of the first film. The fight choreography is wonderful and particualrly in the first half, it is amazing how much variation in the types of action Stahelski portrays. Keanu Reeves is on top form again and the film furthers the mythology the first two films explored in the criminal world the titular character finds himself tied in. Visually, the film is gorgeous as well, cinematographer Dan Laustsen capturing the neon, visceral quality beautifully. The film ends in a place where further sequels could happen but if the series stopped here, this would be a great trilogy.

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6) Boy Erased 

Boy Erased is the sophomore effort from actor-now-director Joel Edgerton whose debut The Gift was a masterpiece. Boy Erased is a completely different film and is a drama about a teenager who is forced to undergo homosexual conversion therapy program. The cast are all excellent, Lucas Hedges gives a nuanced performance as the conflicted main character and Russell Crowe is a standout as his authoritarian and religious father. Joel Edgerton casts himself as the head of the program and he is a particularly sinister and nasty piece of work. The score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is fantastic and the film is visually dark and gloomy. Boy Erased is another success from Edgerton and it will be interesting to see where he goes next.

Now into the Top Five…

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5) Triple Frontier 

Triple Frontier is the latest from director J. C. Chandor, who previously made A Most Violent Year which I really liked when it first came out and upon further viewing, I now deem to be a masterpiece as it is a film rich with layers, a terrific narrative and conflicted characters. My expectations were very high for this film, a crime heist thriller with Ben Affleck and Chandor reuniting with Oscar Isaac. This is another excellent film by Chandor and it successfully takes what can be a rather conventional genre into a new direction in the way it explores certain themes and the repercussions the heist has on the group. The score by Disasterpeace is intense and the film looks visually sharp. I was engrossed by the film throughout and Chandor manages to sustain the tension throughout.

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4) Green Book 

Green Book is a thoroughly enjoyable film with some outstanding performances from both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. The script is sharp and provides some fascinating insights into America’s prejudice culture and racism of the time. The interplay and relationships between characters is also excellent, who I really got on board with from the start. It is well-directed by Peter Farrelly and fantastically paced. Green Book provided a controversial win at this year’s Oscars as it ultimately took the coveted Best Picture gong. Whilst I really like it as a film, the controversies surrounding how it represents race and ethnicity are valid. It is unashamedly a white saviour narrative and the film does perpetuate stereotypes. These are questions that come up after watching the film and although it does somewhat tarnish the quality of the film, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Green Book. (Full review here)

Now into the Top Three…

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3) The Mule 

The Mule is a gripping film that ramps up the tension throughout its run time and has a commanding, grizzled performance from Clint Eastwood. Eastwood has played this type of gruff character many times throughout his impressive career but it still works, particlarly when paired with the fascinating story.  The film also teaches some well-intentioned messages and morals and there’s an admirable relationship within Stone’s family that felt authentic and also the relationship between Eastwood and Bradley Cooper’s DEA agent. I also really liked how Eastwood humanized the drug cartel members which results in some memorable characters for Eastwood to interact with. In fact, the script by Nick Schenk, who also wrote Gran Torino which is another excellent Eastwood film, is razor-sharp and efficiently paced. Much like The Old Man and the Gun, another recent release which tackles many of the same themes as this film, The Mule interrogates the existential themes of what makes Eastwood’s character work and why he continues to work for the cartel when he knows what he is doing. (Full review here)

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2) Glass

Glass is an excellent end to this trilogy and mostly represents M. Night Shyamalan at his best – it is pretty much a knock-out. Shyamalan develops these characters extremely well, furthering their character arcs and subverts expectations, for better or worse for some viewers. It is very cine-literate and further deconstructs the generic constructs of the superhero genre and offers some fascinating commentaries on these. As is to be expected, there is a Shyamalan twist and it does undo the good work a little as it isn’t one of his best twists but if you can buy into the film’s central conceit beforehand, it really is excellent. As with a lot of Shyamalan’s filmography, it would be very easy for one to laugh and sneer at this film, as the film walks a fine line. The performances are uniformly excellent, with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson standing out. Technically, Glass succeeds in spades too. The score is outstanding, West Dylan Thordson returning from Split and successfully melding both past themes whilst creating some memorable new ones. DP Mike Gioulakis is also great and there are numerous shots which are just a work of art to look at. I sincerely hope that in a few years time, this film will be reassessed as it’s been really unfairly recieved. (Full review here)

So the best film of the year is…

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1) Dragged Across Concrete 

S. Craig Zahler does it again. His first film, Bone Tomahawk reached very highly in my 2016 list and his second, Brawl In Cell Block 99 took top honours in 2017. Dragged Across Concrete is another wonder from this top director. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are both brilliant as two policemen who are suspended after brutally treating a suspect and take matters into their own hands. Tory Kittles is also great as a recently released man who reunites with his family and finds himself intertwined in this case. There are also small roles from Zahler-regulars Fred Melamed, Udo Kier and Don Johnson. The script is once again fantastic and the film deals with the themes of wealth and righteousness very assuredly. Dragged Across Concrete foregoes some of Zahler’s usual ultraviolence and there is nothing here that rivals the violence in his first two films – bear in mind though the film still has an 18 certificate. But instead, this is an equally well-developed narrative that is fascinating throughout and the third act is well-worth the interesting build-up. I think Brawl In Cell Block 99 remains Zahler’s best film but this is another winner and it will take quite a lot for something to top this.

Reflection on 2019 so far…

2019 has been another solid year in terms of film and a definite step-up from 2018’s mid-point which wasn’t a particularly strong selection. Most films so far this year have either been pretty solid or above average but there have been a couple of unexpected stinkers.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a real disappointment that after a strong opening turns into a turgid mess in its languorous run time. Hellboy was an outright disaster that undermined Guillermo Del Toro’s brilliant first two films. The Highwaymen was a total bore. But the worst film of the year so far that I have seen is ironically written by S. Craig Zahler who also directed the best film. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich should have been so good on paper and it has a brilliant first scene with Udo Kier. But the rest of the film is just terrible.

Other than these examples, everything else has been at least watchable. I’d be very happy if my end of year list included these films again as they’re all very worthy. Here’s hoping for another strong second half of the year.

What’s Next…?

2019 looks set to continue to be a great year in film and just listing a couple of films that look like they have potential include:

–  Midsommar
–  The Lion King
–  Spider-Man: Far From Home
–  Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood
–  Crawl
–  Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark
–  It: Chapter Two
–  Ad Astra
–  Joker
–  Offical Secrets
–  Terminator: Dark Fate
–  Monos
–  Doctor Sleep
–  Sorry We Missed You
–  Ford vs Ferrari
–  Them That Follow
–  Knives Out
–  Motherless Brooklyn
–  Jumanji: The Next Level
–  Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

However, it is important to note that this is not a definitive list and these titles are just a few picks scattered across the remainder of the year that have piqued my interest.


Best Films of 2018 (10-1)

This is the second part of my Best Films of 2018 feature detailing my Top Ten films. Click here to read numbers 20 to 11 and the Honourable Mentions.

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten films of 2018:

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10) All The Money In The World 

All The Money In The World is overall, immensely enjoyable and a fun potboiler. It is frequently gripping and is propped up by the brilliant cast. Scott has had a varied career, Alien and Blade Runner at his peak, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood at his worst and then, many of his films fall in between with ambitious ideas but not necessarily great execution a la Alien: Covenant. All The Money In The World ultimately proves to be one of Scott’s best films and proves that with the right script and the right cast, he can still churn out greatness. Last-minute replacement Christopher Plummer is excellent as J. Paul Getty, as is Michelle Williams as her kidnapped son’s mother who just wants him back but cannot afford the hefty ransom. Although the film will be remembered for its behind-the-scenes shake-up with Kevin Spacey, the film is fantastic in its own right and should be viewed as such. (Full review here)

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9) Last Flag Flying 

Last Flag Flying really knocked me back. Boyhood director Richard Linklater has crafted a bittersweet and warm tale of friendship and coming to terms with loss that is very mature. Yet, the film also has bite in its conflicted commentary of military service and patriotism. The performances by the entirety of the cast are superb and of course, the trio of Steve Carrell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne have such good chemistry together. All of the characters are so well developed that when the film finished, I could have easily watched another two hours of these characters interacting with each other. They are all morally flawed individuals, who have all made mistakes in the past but they all have good intentions. It’s a brilliant film and one that I highly recommend seeking. (Full review here)

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8) In The Fade 

In The Fade is a return to form for German-Turkish director Fatih Ahkin and is a moody yet contemplative insight into the degradation of Diane Kruger’s main character following the death of her husband and her son in a neo-Nazi terrorist attack. The film transitions seamlessly from courtroom drama to a meditative thriller and the whole experience is edge-of-your-seat. The score by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Joshua Homme is excellent and compliments the film beautifully. In The Fade is a hard but necessary and rewarding watch.

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7) Widows

Widows is an intelligent, taut and well-constructed piece that not only succeeds as a basic heist film, but it has a lot to say on the themes of gender and politics. The cast are uniformly brilliant, Viola Davis leading the pack with ease and swagger. The standouts are Michelle Rodriguez, who plays against type as one of the widows and Daniel Kaluuya as Jamal’s menacing mob enforcer brother, also playing against type as his past characters have had a sense of morality. McQueen delivers on the more basic elements of the genre in spades, the heists gripping and tension-filled and the action sequences equally satisfying, given that his previous filmography hasn’t featured this. Coupled with American Animals (13th in this ranking), the heist genre has had a strong year. (My original review here)

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6) 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. (Full review here)

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5) Phantom Thread 

Phantom Thread represents yet another high for director Paul Thomas Anderson and is a fantastic note for Daniel Day-Lewis to go out on, should this in fact be his swansong. It makes for a masterful character study and a real treat for cinephiles. Two thirds of this film is pretty much note-perfect but I’m still a little unsure of the direction the film takes in the third act but I am definitely more on-board with it than on first watch. (Full review here)

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4) The Shape of Water 

The Shape of Water is a beautiful triumph from Guillermo Del Toro, who once again successfully interweaves and juxtaposes the supernatural to reality. Del Toro has clearly been inspired from The Creature from the Black Lagoon, a film that he wanted to remake from a female perspective but wasn’t allowed. As well as this inspiration, Del Toro’s film is a love letter to early cinema which it borrows in some of its tropes and plot points, infused with his darker work on Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. I was hooked by the film throughout and it has a lot hidden up its sleeve and like his other films, it earns its adult rating with its sex and grotesque violence. (Full review here)

Now into the top #3…

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3) Coco 

I really struggled with 2nd and 3rd, but Coco just lost out on 2nd place. Coco is yet another triumph for the animation giant, Pixar, and ranks as one of their strongest works. It is moving, life-affirming and should manage to appeal to both adults and children alike. It also goes without saying that the attention to detail in the animation is second to none, Pixar continuing to elevate animation to photorealist levels. Combined with the excellent narrative and emotional journey this film takes us through, Coco is a film fully deserving of its all praise. (Full review here)

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2) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri proves Martin 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. (Full review here)

So the best film of the year is…

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1) Sicario 2: Soldado 

There really was no competition. Sicario 2: Soldado is a masterful sequel and whilst its behind-the-camera talent may not, on paper, be quite as strong as its original, as a film I found it to be better paced and maintains its sharp focus throughout. The first film made a jarring shift in its final third, which although was satisfying, did make the film lose focus a little as the rest of the film follows Emily Blunt’s FBI agent constantly. This is an even more grimy and black picture where characters are morally and ethically bankrupt and there are multiple scenes which are very uncomfortable to watch, in particular an early scene that sets the backdrop for the rest of the film with terrorists blowing up a supermarket. Sollima’s sequel has a rousing commentary on American politics with a Trumpian-like President and the lengths and processes people go to to cross the border. The film gets better on further rewatches and nothing has come close to unseating this film from first position. (Full review here)


So there we go, these films were in my opinion, the best of 2018. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister