Sunday, 31 December 2017

Top 20 Films of 2017

To go out on a limb (although all are welcome to join), I would say that 2017 has been the best year of film releases in as long as I've been deliberating each 'year in film'.

Not only in terms of the quality but also in the range of genres, styles and voices. I'll limit myself to 20, but I could've easily gone to 30+ and found films that I have a lot of time for and may have made lists from previous years.

As ever, I've gone by UK release dates (theatrical where available). Full reviews (where available) are linked in each entry.

Monday, 13 November 2017

BFI LFF 2017 - THELMA - Dir. Joachim Trier

A father and his daughter Thelma walk across a frozen lake; she pauses momentarily to watch the silvery fish slinking through the icy water below. Later, a fawn crosses their path; the father raises his rifle to shoot, but turns it towards his daughter just ahead of him. He holds his aim but can’t bring himself to pull the trigger.

It’s a brilliant opening – one of the year’s best – to Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s fourth film Thelma, his first foray into genre cinema. It’s unsettling and gives Trier a blank canvas on which to map out his chilling sci-fi drama; the unexpected should be expected at every turn.

Monday, 9 October 2017


A three and a quarter hour documentary about a library may not sound like the most enticing of prospects and yet, Frederick Wiseman’s glimpse into the comings, goings and inner workings of the New York Public Library is riveting and absolutely worth taking the time to savour.

As libraries go, the New York Public Library with its 209 branches is a million miles away from the stuffy village sites that would spring to my mind. Wiseman takes his camera to many of the locations found on the streets, corners and in the suburbs of the continuously unfurling city. He’s there simply to observe how people use the facilities available to them and how the management work to continually provide their patrons with the means to live, learn and connect with the wider world.

Friday, 6 October 2017

BFI LFF 2017: BAD GENIUS - Dir. Nattawut Poonpiriya

Now here’s that rarest of things, a film you never knew you wanted: a high-school exam heist thriller. Whilst Hollywood faces continuous accusations of lacking ideas, Thailand has delivered Bad Genius: an inventive and thrilling caper that has already wowed audiences on home soil and across much of southeast Asia.

Keen to settle in quickly at her new school, Lynn (newcomer Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) begins to tutor her new friend Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan). Tutoring quickly turns to cheating and as Grace’s grades improve, more of Lynn’s classmates want her to provide the answers to their exams, and they’re willing to pay good money for her help.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

BFI LFF 2017: PRINCESS CYD - Dir. Stephen Cone

There’s a specific joy that comes from watching a film with no preconceptions and being completely won over by it and, in the modern era of lengthy marketing campaigns, it is becoming an occurrence to savour. The film on this occasion was Princess Cyd, from Chicago based writer and director Stephen Cone.

Jessie Pinnick stars as teenager Cyd, who travels to Chicago to spend the summer with her aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence), a famous novelist. Cyd and Miranda haven’t seen each other since the funeral of their mother/sister almost a decade ago.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

BFI London Film Festival 2017 Preview - Part 2

A total of 242 feature films will screen at the 61st BFI London Film Festival in October; 242 films including 28 World premieres, 9 International premieres and 34 European premieres.

The previously announced Breathe and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will bookend the festival and there are many treats in-store for the days in between. 

In Part 1, I looked at the films from the main competitions and gala screenings.

Outside of the competitions and galas, other films are placed in one of the following strands:

   LOVE                 DEBATE                 LAUGH

 DARE                  THRILL                   CULT

JOURNEY             CREATE                 FAMILY

EXPERIMENTA                            TREASURES

Click any of the strand names to explore each one if full on the BFI website. Here are some picks from my first perusal at the full line-up; click on the title of each film to go to the BFI festival page for the film.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

BFI London Film Festival 2017 Preview - Part 1

A total of 242 feature films will screen at the 61st BFI London Film Festival in October; 242 films including 28 World premieres, 9 International premieres and 34 European premieres.

The previously announced Breathe and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will bookend the festival and there are many treats in-store for the days in between. Here are some picks from my first perusal at the full line-up; click on the title of each film to go to the BFI festival page for the film.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

6 = 1 + 5: How Disney could be set to leave the rest of the major studios behind.

Barely a day goes by without an announcement of an upcoming sequel, remake or reboot (and even the occasional squeakquel) as the Hollywood studios scramble to find their next box office smash.

Accompanying these announcements are choruses of exasperated sighs, pages of disgruntled tweets and cries of “Is nothing sacred?” from movie goers who are growing increasingly frustrated with the repetitive nature of the films making their way to cinemas from Tinseltown.

Hollywood’s propensity for sequels and the like is nothing new, but there has been a noticeable change in the last year or so with studios becoming more aggressive (or perhaps desperate) in their pursuit of that lucrative pay day. Fox has reportedly invested a whopping $900 million in James Cameron’s three Avatar sequels. Before the first film had made its way into cinemas, Warner Bros. announced that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them would be the first of five new films in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world.

Why the sudden rush? The answer perhaps lies in box office numbers.

Eddie Redymayne as Newt in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Friday, 11 August 2017

Catfight - Dir. Onur Tukel

Possibly more readily known as ‘That film where Sandra Oh and Anne Heche beat each other up’, Onur Tukel’s Catfight has plenty to offer beyond that initial premise, offering up a near farcical satirical look at the lives of pent-up New Yorkers.

Whilst attending a birthday party that doubles as a celebration for her husband’s latest contract for the military, Veronica (Oh) bumps into former college friend Ashley (Heche), an artist serving drinks to pay her way. The exchange of pleasantries quickly passes by and their conversation re-opens some old wounds; moments later, some fresh wounds are opened too after an accidental collision leads to a bout of fisticuffs and some severe consequences.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Get Out - Dir. Jordan Peele

Not so much a review, but some thoughts on Jordan Peele's 'Get Out'.

Major spoilers lie ahead for both 'Get Out' and Edgar Wright's 'The World's End', you have been warned.

Jordan Peele's debut is ultimately let down by a finale that's nowhere near as bold and fearless as the blistering hour or so that precedes it.
The opening scene establishes the tone of the film brilliantly but also puts the audience slightly ahead of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya). That's fine at the outset, but it's about an hour later before Chris finds out and we are explicitly told what had been building up gradually since that opening.
That build up is terrific but results in the film having to race towards its end just as it reaches the major turning point; the Armitage family no longer need to mask their true intentions for the first time in the film, but 3 of them are dispatched very quickly with no further interactions or conversations with Chris.

The finale, which can be boiled down to 6 words: Chris escapes and kills the family, is effectively handled by Peele but feels ordinary in a film that was anything but for so much of its running time.
Structurally, Get Out operates in a manner similar to Edgar Wright's The World's End. In both the character/characters experience a particular feeling connected to the situation that they have been placed into. That feeling is explored in the subtext of a story that utilises a classic genre and an outlandish twist.

The World’s End is about the dangers of trying to relive past glories when the people and places involved have changed, presented through a story where the townsfolk have literally been changed, from humans to blue-blooded (it’s more like ink) robots. In Get Out, liberal racism is presented through a story where middle-class white people are chumming up to a black man to figure out if they’d like to have their brain transplanted into his body.
And yet in The World’s End, the main turning point is somewhere closer to the middle of the film, leaving more time for the story to explore the new situation. This is particularly evident in the trailer for Get Out, which has to feature so much of the final 20 minutes of the film to suggest how the story will escalate but also leaves the film with too few surprises (of similar impact of those earlier in the film) to deliver that final knockout blow.
Perhaps it won’t matter as much on repeat viewings, but for now it’s a quibble that I can’t get out of my mind.

Get Out is out on Blu-Ray, DVD and VOD now.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

After the Storm - Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

If someone were to ask me what Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film is about, I could accurately, and most unhelpfully, say ‘Life’, which could make the film sound morosely ponderous when it isn’t in any way.

Whilst the characters occasionally flirt with philosophical notions of what the meaning of life is, much to their own amusement and amazement, Kore-eda is much more interested in letting his characters participate in the life they’ve been dealt and to navigate a way through the joys and disappointments along the way.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Adult Life Skills - Dir. Rachel Tunnard

A little quirk can go a long way on screen and thankfully Rachel Tunnard, who writes, directs and edits this feature length adaptation of her BAFTA nominated short Emotional Fusebox, balances the idiosyncrasies of her characters with an affecting story of grief and the difficulties in overcoming it.

On the cusp of her 30th birthday, Anna (Jodie Whittaker) spends her days and nights tucked away in her mum’s shed at the bottom of the garden. She has yet to come to terms with the death of her twin brother, but is forced into confronting her future when she has to look out for eight-year-old neighbour Clint (Ozzy Myers).

There have been plenty of films with characters clinging on to their teenage years as the realities of proper adulthood rapidly approach, but Adult Life Skills posses an overwhelming sincerity that treats Anna’s troubles with the respect they deserve; there’s never the sense that she should just simply get over it. People react to tragedies in different ways and the intricacies of Anna’s life and character (such as her enthusiasm for making videos starring faces drawn on her thumbs) lend the somewhat familiar narrative framework a uniqueness that may be described as twee, but is distinctly human.

The overriding honesty of the film is exemplified in Jodie Whittaker’s engaging performance. You feel the frustration of Anna’s mother and grandmother (Lorraine Ashbourne and Eileen Davies) as they try to help her but also understand why she is reluctant to move on. A tad more urgency during the early stages of the film might not have gone amiss, but Tunnard makes powerful use of imagery to keep the story flowing; the sight of young Clint shaving his head is more moving than any words could be.

Adult Life Skills is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Neruda - Dir. Pablo Larraín

The biopic has been a mainstay in cinema for as long as filmmakers have been looking for stories to tell, offering actors the challenge and responsibility of bringing a real person to the big screen. It is a genre unto itself with its own trappings and clichés, which have been effectively parodied in the likes of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Pablo Larraín’s latest film is, in strictest terms, a biopic of Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda, but that description belies the film and its approach to capturing a person’s life on film. Larraín has enjoyed a steady rise to prominence and acclaim across the world and with Neruda he has developed his capabilities even further to deliver an enigmatic and at times breathtaking challenge to the conventional biopic.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Free Fire - Dir. Ben Wheatley

Beards, bullets and bloody-minded idiots collide in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire: a lean, rollicking cinematic jolt to the senses.

An abandoned Boston warehouse is the meeting point for an arms deal between Irishman Chris (Cillian Murphy) and cocksure South African Verne (Sharlto Copley); each accompanied by a band of merry henchmen and mediators to ensure the deal goes smoothly. After rumblings of deceit and unsavoury transgressions emerge, the palpable tension is broken by gunfire and a chaotic fracas in the rubble ensues.

Friday, 3 March 2017

The Good, The Bad and The Box Office

26 films that collectively took less money at the U.S. box office than Suicide Squad did in just 3 days.

A majority of box-office headlines each week focuses on the big hitters, the franchise entries and sequels whose performance in the opening weekend is often taken as an indication of long-term financial success. Will film X surpass film Y? Will film X cross $1 billion gross worldwide? Has film X met box-office expectations?

Discussion of box office figures has gradually found its way into more and more online discussions, with larger box office takings often used as inherently flawed evidence to claim one film is better than another.

Away from the big franchises, there isn’t the same level of discussion. The reporting on smaller films is available if you want to read it but there’s less understanding as to what those figures mean. Is a $5 million opening weekend a good result? Will the film make back its budget? Does that matter?

In short, how much money do smaller releases take compared to the multi-million dollar blockbusters? In particular, I decided to see how these smaller releases compared to Suicide Squad, which was not only one of the year’s highest grossing releases, but was generally received poorly by critics (it holds a score of just 26% on Rotten Tomatoes).

Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad.

Certain Women - Dir. Kelly Reichardt

Following the intense dam-busting thriller Night Moves, Kelly Reichardt returns with her sixth feature, Certain Women, her fourth in a notably prolific last decade. Based on a number of short stories by Maile Meloy, Certain Women tells loosely connected stories of three women living in weathered small town Montana.

Laura (Laura Dern) is a lawyer with an unsatisfied client, Gina is a wife and mother looking to bring her family closer together in their new home and a lonely horse rancher (Lily Gladstone) stumbles into a night class on the intricacies of school law.