Thursday 31 August 2017

Best and Worst of August 2017

We have finally reached the end of summer movie season and, all things considered, it was pretty good. Granted we saw a number of unspeakable lows but we were also treated to some truly fantastic high points. Gone is the sheer, seemingly endless mediocrity of 2016 and instead we get the brilliance of ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘Baby Driver’, ‘The Big Sick’ and ‘Dunkirk’. Even the entries of the summer which I would regard as being good rather than great have been distantly refreshing in one way or another like ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ and ‘Atomic Blonde’.

Despite some worries that it would end with more of a whimper than a bang, August was no different, maintaining a good level of quality that saw some excellent releases. Granted it is disappointing that Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Detroit’ didn’t quite reach the levels of greatness I was hoping it would, the fact that a film that impressive didn’t make the top three is a testament to the high quality. Even the worst movie of this month was more frustratingly bland and uninspired in comparison to the source material rather than outright awful (but for the record, still pretty bad). But for now, here are the best.

3: Ingrid Goes West

In this bitingly sharp commentary on social media as well as our entire celebrity culture, we see a story that is as darkly humorous as it is broadly relevant. It completely immerses the viewer within its landscape and can make them feel equally as involved within its narrative whether they know what Instagram is or not. But as well as tackling the broader themes of our society, ‘Ingrid Goes West’ does so by being a fascinating character study of its titular figure by depicting an obsessed person who falls into the trap of using her obsessions ton escape from a harsh reality, who is brilliantly brought to life by a fascinating lead performance from Aubrey Plaza. It never gets caught up in its broader themes to a point where it forgets to be a movie and instead focusses on the interesting character dynamics as well as its ever intriguing plot.

2: Logan Lucky

Steven Soderbergh’s triumphant return to filmmaking may look like familiar territory upon first glance (a heist movie from the guy who is most famous for directing a heist movie, how remarkable). But beyond the genre, everything about ‘Logan Lucky’ from its central themes to its characters and whole stylistic approach feels fresh and innovative. Soderbergh creates empathetic characters that make the viewer feel instantly invested in their intricately laid plan, and then never resorts to mocking them for a cheap laugh but instead draws catharsis from their small victories. It boasts a fantastic cast who are all whole distinct in their roles to a point where every part feels like it could never be played by anyone else with Daniel Craig being the major standout. It’s energetic, highly entertaining and serves as a welcome reminder of why Soderbergh has been missed during his five year absence (it actually wasn’t that long of a retirement when you think about it was it?).

1: Dunkirk

I feel like, of all of Christopher Nolan’s films, ‘Dunkirk’ is the one most likely to be widely embraced as a classic. It has proven to be more divisive than one would think among audiences due to its complex structure and unconventional plotting, but it’s such a magnificent feat of intricate storytelling that the effect is unforgettable. Nolan brings forth some of the most terrifying and acutely tense set pieces in recent cinema history. He fully immerses the viewer within not only the immediate terror of war but also the deeper existential dread of having to confront death on a regular basis. As a filmmaker Nolan is in such command of his craft, pin pointing every solitary detail of his vision with such precision that it almost defies belief. ‘Dunkirk’ refuses to veer into contrived melodrama or artificial sentiment, it doesn’t need it. What it captures instead is a broader sense of emotion that fully captures the visceral nature of war, on a truly stunning level.

And the worst…

Death Note

I like Adam Wingard, he has a good knack for subverting conventional horror tropes and bringing them to life in a refreshing manner. It’s for that reason that I can’t accuse him of not trying when it came to Netflix’s live action American adaptation of the hugely popular anime of the same name. But his creative decisions simply do not work here. He fails to create any sense of atmosphere, any inkling of empathy for his characters as well as a complete lack of cohesive development or motivation. It is simply an adaptation that completely bypasses anything that made the original interesting. It’s not as bad as ‘Dragonball: Evolution’ or ‘The Last Airbender’ (excuse me while I vomit for a second) but for fans of the anime it must feel just as painful.

Logan Lucky

"You Logan's must be as simple minded as people say."

I was saddened by the news that Steven Soderbergh intended to retire from directing feature films in 2012. Luckily though, this is Hollywood and most retirements only last a few years at most. Although in actuality ‘Logan Lucky’ is not Hollywood at all, as Soderbergh was granted complete creative control over not just the movie but the entire marketing campaign behind it, which is why it comes as little surprise that it’s everything it promised to be.

West Virginia family man Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) teams up with his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) to steal money from the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Jimmy also recruits demolition expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to help them break into the track's underground system. Complications arise when a mix-up forces the crew to pull off the heist during a popular NASCAR race while also trying to dodge a relentless FBI agent.

It comes as little surprise that Steven Soderbergh knows how to direct a good heist movie, he practically reinvented the genre with ‘Ocean’s 11’ (I feel like there are some numbers that come after 11 but for the life of me I can’t remember them). ‘Logan Lucky’ really does feel like a throwback at times, but it’s a throwback to a better era of movies, one where summer entertainment didn’t require a superhero or a sky beam to be considered ridiculously entertaining. However, at the same time it’s also refreshing in its subject matter and execution which certainly comes as a surprise in this day and age.

The movie remembers that first and foremost in a successful heist flick are the characters. It doesn’t matter how ingenious your scheme is, without characters that feel compelling and well-drawn the audience will struggle to be invested in the ensuing action. Normally however, a relatable character is forced to maintain a degree of realism as anything too eccentric is seen as too detached to be relatable. But ‘Logan Lucky’ populates itself with exaggerated personas that feel empathetic due to the issues they have to navigate. They deal with struggles that are relatable, but their reactions to them are brilliantly staged and hugely entertaining.

Part of that comes from how Soderbergh is depicting a working class struggle that feels both authentic and non-pandering at the same time. It doesn’t take sides or try to divide its subjects into an “us against them” mentality. It treats each character with respect, to a degree that much of the humour comes from laughing with them rather than laughing at them. ‘Logan Lucky’ establishes how its put down characters are belittled by the world around them, so a lot of the most cathartic moments in the story come from seeing these characters defy those expectations.

It’s just as well that the movie has assembled such a fantastic cast to bring these characters to life. Channing Tatum is always magnetic in these kinds of roles, but as Jimmy Logan is able to bring forth a sense of empathy that gives even the movie’s funniest moments a hint of gravitas. Then there’s Adam Driver who exudes a great sense of tragic dignity that draws its humour from his own awkwardness and as part of a duo he plays well against Tatum’s more extroverted personality. Even the minor players portrayed by the likes of Seth McFarlane and Sebastian Stan shine due to the charisma of the actors as well as the distinctiveness of the writing. But the standout has to be Daniel Craig whose turn as the explosives expert Joe Bangs is ridiculously over the top in his personality but also appropriately nuanced in the mannerisms that cement the character as a memorable presence.

However, I have to save most of the praise for Soderbergh himself. Despite the fact that a heist film would initially appear to be an easy option for a comeback movie, Soderbergh manages to subvert the genre in such a unique manner that it almost feels like he has built the foundations from the ground up. He takes a swift departure from the sleeker look of ‘Ocean’s 11’ and crafts a movie that has a much rawer kind of energy. It’s rich and distinct but also refreshingly impulsive as his style of filmmaking perfectly translates to the high octane speed of NASCAR. His ability to balance tone is as on point as ever, blending the inherent comedy of the plot with the underlying tragedy that drives it so brilliantly that it’s hard to know where the humour and poignancy are no longer one of the same, mainly because they aren’t.

Soderbergh could have chosen any safe option to return to filmmaking. But by making ‘Logan Lucky’ he has created a movie that walks a very fine line on numerous occasions. It risks being a farce at times or overly sentimental at others but never strays too far towards either, and the same goes for almost every other conflicting aspect of the movie. Much like its characters, it stands as an unpredictable oddity.

‘Logan Lucky’ is ridiculously entertaining in a way that only Soderbergh can be, but it’s also refreshingly unique in how it goes about doing so.

Result: 8/10

Ingrid Goes West

"You are the coolest, most interesting person I've ever met."

It’s always difficult for movies to pin point current culture, mainly due to the fact that from the inception of the movie to the actual production, whatever aspect of popular culture your script was based upon has likely faded into obscurity. It’s even more difficult in the digital age when entire sub-cultures can rise and fall within the space of a week (good luck to the poor person who made a movie about Vine), so to stay relevant is a constant problem.

 Following the death of her mother and a series of self-inflicted setbacks, young Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) escapes a humdrum existence by moving out West to befriend her Instagram obsession, a Los Angeles socialite named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). After a quick bond is forged between these unlikeliest of buddies, the facade begins to crack in both women's lives with comically malicious results.

‘Ingrid Goes West’ shows an insight inti its subject matter like few movies do. IT completely immerses the viewer within its landscape and can make them feel equally as involved within its narrative whether they know what Instagram is or not. It is compelling, deeply empathetic and darkly humorous. But it’s also very daring in the way it goes about this. It never preaches some story of redemption or tries to convey any message in general. It simply examines what happens when we mistake fiction for reality, and idolise something beyond what it is worth. In other words, it’s about us.

But as well as tackling the broader themes of our society, ‘Ingrid Goes West’ does so by being a fascinating character study of its titular figure. It depicts an obsessed person who falls into the trap of using her obsessions ton escape from a harsh reality. It’s clear from the outset that her infatuation with Taylor Sloane is the latest chapter in a never ending pattern for her. There needs to have an object of desire within her life to instil it with purpose. In a society where people actively broadcast every moment of their lives, it becomes all too easy for Ingrid to find new people to obsess over.

All of this is brilliantly captured by Aubrey Plaza. Rather than playing Ingrid as a cautionary warning she injects such a sense of tragic empathy into the role. She makes the character sympathetic but never fails to convey a sense of unease by reminding us of how unhinged she is. There is a distinct difference between Ingrid and ourselves, but Plaza’s performance adds a layer of humanity to the role that blurs those lines. She is also remarkably difficult to read, with her detachment carrying an intrigue all of its own that constantly makes the audience question how deeply laid her plans are.

What helps make the part even more authentic is how well written the character of Taylor is, as well as Olsen’s superb performance. It goes back to how well ‘Ingrid Goes West’ seems to understand the culture it is studying. Usually movies seem to think of internet culture as being astounded by anything mildly impressive. But Olsen brings a magnetic personality to Taylor as a character that makes her ability to flourish on this platform very believable.

But it’s not just the main conceit of the movie that feels fully realised. Its entire world comes across as something that is intricately designed due to how well defined its supporting players are. From Ingrid’s landlord with his own forms of obsession to Taylor’s seemingly all-too-perfect husband, both played excellently by O’Shea Jackson Jr and Wyatt Russell respectively. The movie makes a point of stating how every person within the story has their own concerns and issues, but through the eyes of Ingrid all that matters is her perfect vision of life with Taylor through Instagram.

As well as that, the screenplay is always unpredictable and intriguing. It takes the route of so many darkly comedic character studies, recalling Scorsese’s ‘The King of Comedy’ with its themes and anti-social characters. While this movie sometimes lacks focus on what exactly it is commenting on the overall effect is a sharply written commentary on what can happen when the world becomes a mirror into someone else’s life. But as I said before, the movie never resorts to preaching or lecturing the audience. It is richly textured and involving enough to completely immerse you within its narrative. The dynamic of the characters is unpredictable but also perfectly logical as the film takes the time to firmly establish their personality before letting them interact. It’s handled with such energy that it is only after it’s all over that you realise how inevitable the whole state of affairs was. As well as being on point enough to lampoon aspects of society that didn’t even exist a few years ago, it handles its characters so intricately that this acuteness almost washes over you.

Sharply satirical but also endearingly empathetic, ‘Ingird Goes West’ is a biting commentary on how we live as well as an intimately staged character study.

Result: 8/10

Wednesday 30 August 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard

"This guy singlehandedly ruined the word 'mother-fucker' for me."

No summer movie season is complete without that harmless, disposable, perfectly fun but not mind blowing comedy that promises a good time and nothing more. If that wasn’t enough of an indication as to where this review was going then I can further clarify in saying that ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is basically everything you would expect to see from a film about Ryan Reynolds and Sam Jackson crossing paths, no one is stretching themselves but no one’s being lazy either.

The world's top protection agent (Ryan Reynolds) is called upon to guard the life of his mortal enemy, one of the world's most notorious hit men (Samuel L Jackson). During their journey from England to The Hague, they encounter high-speed car chases, outlandish boat escapades and a merciless Eastern European dictator (Gary Oldman) who is out for blood.

It may sound demeaning to say that ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is never as funny as its theatrical poster (which is, for the record, hilarious) but in this case the movie offers a perfectly enjoyable summer comedy that, if anything, is only seriously hampered by the fact that it’s hitting theatres ten years too late. Had this exact script been produced in the early 2000s or late 1990s it would have been a smash hit, but now it’s more of a guilty pleasure to throw on when there’s nothing better to do.

That being said, being released now is the perfect time for the movie to capitalise on the popularity of its two leading stars as Reynolds and Jackson are both enjoying superhero aided career boosts. Their chemistry is far and away the strongest aspect of the movie and never fails to prop it up when it falls upon weak or clichéd writing. At times I think even the movie is acutely aware of this fact as it never strays away from the duo for too long. Even it’s scenes of exposition feel like they are in a rsuh to be over and done with so our attention can return to the reason we are all here in the first place.

As I said at the beginning, neither actor goes above or beyond what we have seen from them in the past but they are so well practiced at playing their respective personalities to a fault that it’s hard to be too critical. Jackson is in the quintessential menacing yet charismatic badass whilst Reynolds plays the smart mouth counterpart. They play off of one another very well and seem to be locked in a battle for more engaging screen presence that never feels overwhelming. As a duo they’re not at the amazing levels of, say, Gosling and Crowe in ‘The Nice Guys’ but it’s good. Having just said that I’m now wishing this movie had been written and directed by Shane Black instead and now I’m sad at a lost opportunity.

If it sounds like I’m running out of things to say it’s because I am. Ask yourself what your bare minimum of expectation was for this movie and I can guarantee it will deliver that. I suppose it’s biggest flaw is just how generic the writing feels. There’s no innovation or surprise to the plot, nothing to really draw us into these unfolding events. It is purely an exercise in having adding an obligatory plot to a comedy movie because it needed to have one. ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ never even tries to turn its narrative into anything else, which would be fine if the movie itself didn’t stake so much on it. When the third act rolls around the movie likes to pretend that we as an audience are somehow invested in these characters and intrigues by this plot when in actuality I think you would struggle to find anyone that genuinely was.

Still, it’s made a little better by the fact that the villain of the piece is the ever magnetic Gary Oldman. Once again it’s a case of an actor never reaching beyond what they have already proven themselves to be capable of many times over, but Oldman’s over the top presence is always welcome. In the movie could learn a bit by leaning more heavily into that over the top sensibility. ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is at its funniest when it throws all rules of logic and out of the window. Its action scenes feel more like a Saturday morning cartoon and it’s hugely entertaining. It’s all competently directed by Patrick Hughes, who (like every other solitary element of this movie) isn’t pushing his limits but is staying comfortably in the field he’s good at. So I feel like a looser attitude to proceedings would not go amiss. After all, we were never really invested in the intricacies of the narrative anyway, so why bother adhering to the same principles with the action scenes?  

Perfectly adequate in every way, never mind blowing, but always entertaining.


Tuesday 29 August 2017

The Glass Castle

"You were born to change the world, not just add to the noise."

Given that one of my favourite films of 2013 was Destin Daniel Cretton’s ‘Short Term 12’, a movie that featured a brilliant combination of emotions of both the sincere and honestly raw kind. It was a movie that never felt manipulative or contrived in what it was asking its audience to feel, coming across as a drama that was heavily rooted in realism. Cretton’s next feature, ‘The Glass Castle’ is everything his previous film knew better than to be.

Based on a memoir, four siblings must learn to take care of themselves as their responsibility-averse, free-spirit parents both inspire and inhibit them. When sober, the children's brilliant and charismatic father captured their imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Meanwhile, their mother abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn't want to take on the work of raising a family.

I should start by saying that there is nothing inherently incompetent about ‘The Glass Castle’, but at the same time there is nothing remotely memorable about it either. As I said at the start, ‘Short Term 12’ never felt like it was resorting to contrived melodrama or emotional manipulation but this movie does. It’s far from the worst sin a film can commit but it can certainly ruin the experience for someone who was hoping to watch something that felt like it respected their ability to emote naturally a bit more.

It’s amazing that I can feel that way about a movie starring Brie Larson, an actress whose ability to convey the rawest of emotional honesty makes any project with her name attached to it intriguing from the off.  She is performance is sometimes compelling but never feels engaging enough to make up for the movies own shortcomings. The same goes for also of the cast in that they were certainly good but never quite disappeared into their performances, which is surprising given that it’s a cast that includes the likes of Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts. That might be due to the weakness of the screenplay, which fails to make its characters feel involved in the story that they are a part of.

The film is also very awkwardly paced and structured. Its flashbacks feel infinitely more interesting than the story taking place in present day (a feat that’s actually kind of impressive given how that’s the part of the movie that features Larson). The movie clearly wants to try and draw a meaningful connection between these two time frames and highlight how one is influencing another. But it resorts to doing so by using a distracting and emotionally hollow score, elements that simply ring false when and in conflict with the rest of the movie. It wants to present itself as an honest portrayal but doesn’t even let its audience reach a place of emotional release naturally.

The other unfortunate result of this is that the film gives the impression that it was too afraid to take an honest approach. It risks feeling like something that only half commits to its original vision and has decided to manipulate the audience into seeing the lighter side of the story in favour of the more brutal aspects. Tragedy seems to punctuate almost every aspect of this story, yet the film only seems content in letting the audience feel its presence half of the time. For the rest of the film it has to generate contrived resonance. It robs the story of so much potential complexity as well as never letting the actors explore of more meaningful side of the characters they are portraying.

Cretton’s approach to directing the movie also falls frustratingly flat. Whereas ‘Short Term 12’ utilised hand held cameras and a few stylistic touches that heightened the harsh realities of the story, ‘The Glass Castle’ never takes any steps to draw the audience further into this story on a directorial level. None of the images feel exceptionally compelling or provocative, none of the stylistic choices feel inspired. It’s an understated approach but the structure and nature of this story make it inherently subjective. Cretton’s approach makes it feel cold and distant, never creating a sense of intimacy or empathy.

In short, ‘The Glass Castle’ feels like any other traditional Hollywood drama. I don’t doubt that some audiences will be able to become invested within the drama of the film, but from my perspective it felt contrived and hollow. None of the emotional beats of the movie felt authentic and tonally confused. Rather than dig into the complexities of the story it presents a sanitised order of events that is bitterly disappointing from the likes of Larson and Cretton, whose authenticity has always been one of the strongest aspects of their work.

Despite being competently made, ‘The Glass Castle’ never reaches beyond its contrived melodrama to become anything more meaningful.

Result: 5/10


Sunday 27 August 2017

Death Note

"What they want is a god, so let's give it to them."

I hate to say it but I feel at this point live action adaptations of anime have become just as stigmatised as video game movies. Granted not all of them are terrible but I think we can unanimously agree that we have yet to see the definitive adaptation that will convince the rest of the world that they have merit. From the unspeakable awfulness of ‘The Last Airbender’ and ‘Dragonball: Evolution’ to the decidedly meh entries of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ and the projects that have potential but have spent an eternity trapped in development hell like ‘Akira’.

A high school student comes across a supernatural notebook and soon realises that it holds a great power within it. If the owner inscribes someone's name into it while picturing their face, he or she will die. Intoxicated with his new godlike abilities, the young man begins to kill those he deems unworthy of life.

I won’t pretend to have seen the anime of ‘Death Note’ but it’s praised by enough people I trust that I can assume it is a worthwhile watch. But the premise alone made me think that Adam Wingard was a suitable choice of director for the project. Wingard’s understanding of simple yet effective scares as well his ability to subvert genre tropes would make him a prime candidate to helm a project that would seem unlikely to work on first glance. But where Wingard’s instead of subversion and efficiency, ‘Death Note’ feels tonally confused, generic and about as conventional as they come.

On the subject of what I was saying earlier, ‘Death Note’ most definitely falls within the “meh” category of anime adaptations as there is nothing abysmal about the movie, but at the same time there is nothing particularly memorable about it either. The only thing I can praise is Willem Dafoe’s performance as Ryuk, the demonic god of death that appears to the protagonist when he receives the fateful book. Dafoe evokes a great sense of presence and adds a wonderfully engaging menace to proceedings.

However the rest of the movie is comprised of either a series of clichés or creative decisions that are frankly baffling, not terrible but just baffling. As opposed to a slow build of tension that would seem more suited to the movie (since the act of writing someone’s name in a book isn’t immediately exciting) Wingard populates his film with an overly energetic sensibility. He employs smash zooms, jump cuts and transitions that would feel more at home in an Edgar Wright movie. It feels so mismatched to the feeling of dread that the movie seems to want the audience to feel that it acts as more of a distraction.

I hate to say this as well but on one occasion, these stylistic choices combined with another element of the movie to make it feel unintentionally hilarious at times. Moments of high tension are undercut not just by the directorial decisions but also by some wildly over acting. The characters seem to react to every situation in a way that no normal human being would. I understand that most people don’t encounter a demonic god of death every day, but those characters should at least be empathetic or well written to a point where the audience can understand their outlook on the world as well as recognise their consistent traits. None of the characters in ‘Death Note’ have any of that, they just feel like the same bland, generic teenage characters that would populate any high school soap opera.

While I can commend his cinematography it is very much a case of style over substance as so little effort seems to have been given to the important aspects that would keep us invested in the movie. There is no nuance to the way the characters act, no intrigue into what was happening or urgency to the events as they played out. Not only does the screenplay seem to fastback any sense of gradual character development. There’s never really a new scene that feels necessary to the characters, it just feels like it’s been placed there as an obligation more than anything else. It constantly made me wonder not only why that scene was where it was, but this movie even existed at all.

Far be it from me to criticise the gore of a horror movie, but the deaths and bloodshed of ‘Death Note’ just feel completely out of place with the movie around it. Once again it comes down to tonal consistency as her we have a movie asking its audience to treat it as a serious drama, but as well as not putting any effort into making us empathise with the characters or their situation, inserts a moment of violence that would feel more in place in ‘Evil Dead 2’ than this supposedly patient and methodical tale of morality.

‘Death Note’ lacks the nuance, atmosphere, character development and basically any other solitary aspect would make this story interesting.  

Result: 3/10

Thursday 24 August 2017

Top 5: Steven Soderbergh Movies

Along with Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, Steven Soderbergh is one of the seminal directors of 1990s American cinema. He garnered mainstream attention for the indie circuit and exploded onto the scene, leading Roger Ebert to call him “the poster boy of the Sundance generation” and since then he has never looked back. In a career spanning nearly three decades the director has rapidly become one of the most unique and versatile filmmakers in Hollywood, as well as very much outside of Hollywood, from slick heist movies to raw crime thrillers, straightforward emotional dramas to off the wall experimental projects Soderbergh has traversed almost every genre.

What is most remarkable about Soderbergh’s career was his ability to switch effortlessly between the most star studded of blockbusters to the zaniest arthouse movies. He struck a perfect balance of appealing to a wider audience whilst injecting his stylistic tendancies in the films that both deliberately set out to alienate their audiences, as well as the ones that just sought to entertain them.

After a hiatus from directing feature films Soderbergh has now returned with the crime-comedy ‘Logan Lucky’ and to celebrate (because Soderbergh is back and that’s worth celebrating) I’m picking out my five favourites from the indie darling. However, I also have a few honourable mentions in the form of ‘The Limey’, ‘Erin Brokovich’, ‘The Informant’, ‘Contagion’, Magic Mike’, and ‘Behind the Candelabra’ as well as all of ‘The Knick’. But now, here are the top five.

5: Sex, Lies and Videotape

Soderbergh’s debut feature may have been the most important American film to emerge from that era, it changed the entire film industry upon its release and paved the way for the indie boom that was to follow throughout the 1990s. When it won the Palme d’Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, Soderbergh became the youngest director to ever receive the prize and his emotionally heavy drama that is as nuanced as it is mature. Soderbergh handles the film with a sense of craftsmanship well beyond his age, and finds depth and meaning to the most irreverent of actions. The screenplay is littered with philosophical musings about sexuality and relationships but never draws attention to them, letting its themes flow naturally through the narrative and giving its cast plenty f opportunities to convey the raw emotion behind each scene. It is both breezily light as well as unexpectedly complex, and the overall effect is sublime.

4: Che

Depending on who you ask, Soderbergh’s two part biopic is either a masterpiece or an ambitious failure, and while I personally don’t see it as his definitive masterpiece I think it is most definitely a masterful film. It’s a film with flaws, but the overall impact is so mesmerising and immersive that one can’t help but be awestruck at Soderbergh’s sheer filmmaking ambition. Chronicling the life of revolutionist Che Guevara, the movie is less about deconstructing the man and more about deconstructing an icon, trying to process why to this day Guevara remains as one of the most revered as well as one of the most reviled figures of the 20th century. Its gargantuan runtime is daunting, but it conveys how much struggle and endurance went into each action the revolutionist carried out. Featuring a powerhouse performance by Benicio Del Toro as the titular figure, ‘Che’ is an epic in every sense of the word.

3: Out of Sight

Watching ‘Put of Sight’ today makes it feel like even more of an oddity than it must have felt like in 1998. By all laws of consistency no movie should be this enjoyable and entertaining whilst also being this complex and this artfully constructed. The script is so sharp that you could cut yourself on it, with not a single line of dialogue or narrative beat feeling like a throwaway element. Every aspect of the movie has a purpose whether it is to further our understanding of the characters or draw us deeper into the plot, but for it all to feel as involving and as entertaining as it does here is something very rare. Soderbergh throws in plenty of stylistic flourishes but as usual he also knows when to let his cast do the heavy lifting, and when that cast happens to be made up of George Clooney and Jenifer Lopez delivering some of the best performances of their respective careers, that helps. Clooney’s charm is almost infectious but the nuances of his performance never fail to hint as a darker side, the same goes for Lopez whose seductiveness is only matched by her grit. But the finest bit of all might be their explosive chemistry that is worth the price of admission all on its own.

2: Ocean’s Eleven

Has there ever been a movie as wonderfully re-watchable as ‘Ocean’s 11’? It’s a trick question because no, there isn’t (if you’re me then an argument could be made for ‘Evil Dead 2’ but that’s beside the point) Soderbergh may be an indie director at heart, but with this slick heist film he managed to accomplish more with one dive into blockbuster territory than most filmmakers who spend their entire careers there. I’d be lying if I said this was a particularly complex or boundary pushing entry in his career, but it’s just so damn entertaining to watch, regardless of whether it is your first or fiftieth viewing. Its ensemble cast that includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts not only shine individually but also bounce off of one another with such pitch perfect precision that it just feels like it was made to be. Soderbergh drew upon every era of the heist movie to create the definitive one in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ that worked so brilliantly that just talking about it here makes me want to watch it again.

1: Traffic

At the dawn of the new millennium Soderbergh was a filmmaker with ten years’ worth of experience, but even that doesn’t account for the how brilliant his work is on the masterpiece that is ‘Traffic’. It features the ambition, layered storytelling and ensemble cast that many other films on this list have, but is wrapped in a package so intricately constructed and perfectly realised that it stands as Soderbergh’s finest achievement to date. Despite being very much a political film, the movie never preaches to its audience and instead displays the unfolding events with a perfect blend of style and realism. Little touches like Soderbergh developing a different colour scheme for each chapter help draw the viewer further into this seedy underworld, in a structure that effortlessly interweaves several overarching stories. It earned Soderbergh an Academy Award for Best Director as well as a Best Supporting Actor award for Benicio Del Toro  but I believe it absolutely should have won in the Best Picture category as well because not only is it Soderbergh’s masterwork but it also stands as one of the best achievements of modern American filmmaking.

Tuesday 22 August 2017


"I need you to survive the night."

Kathyrn Bigelow has come a long way since she caught mainstream attention in 1991 for ‘Point Break’. She has gone from making movies about bank robbing surfers to high octane social dramas such as ‘The Hurt Locker’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. Her ability to observe major historical events with a visceral yet distant nature allows her films to be simultaneously powerful and objective. By all filmmaking accounts she would appear to be the perfect fit for this retelling of the 1967 Detroit riots.

 In the summer of 1967, as racial tensions run high in the city of Detroit, a report of gunshots prompts the city authorities to search and seize an annex of the nearby Algiers Motel. Several policemen start to flout procedure by forcefully and viciously interrogating guests to get a confession. By the end of the night, three unarmed men are gunned down while several others are brutally beaten.

I can say upfront that ‘Detroit’ is not as masterfully constructed as Bigelow’s two previous directorial efforts. When it is at its best it is a magnificent accomplishment of visceral filmmaking that completely transports you into another era of history. Its scenes of violence are outright terrifying due to how intense and involving Bigelow’s direction is. Despite being nearly two and a half hours long I would have happily watched a longer cut of the movie, especially since that from a structural standpoint that could be what ‘Detroit’ needed.

As it is the movie feels sprawling and unfocussed. It’s a fantastic display of filmmaking but it struggles to come together as a cohesive whole. At times I felt as if I was watching the first part of a miniseries rather than a movie, because although ‘Detroit’ covers a lot within its broad scope, it still feels like it only scratches the surface of what it sets up. Rather than being about the riots as a whole ‘Detroit’ puts its focus on the eye of the storm that is the Algiers Motel incident, which would be fine if it were treated as an isolated piece of storytelling but ‘Detroit’ feels awkwardly caught between telling the bigger story of the city as a whole and focussing upon the one instigating incident.

If anything it makes the movie feel more like an unfinished miniseries than a complete film. The first act of the movie plays out as if it’s the first episode of such, setting the stage for an ensemble piece that we will explore in more detail further down the road. However those details never really arise, and the movie movies forwards without ever showing its characters in a deeper light. Then when it reaches its third act to focus upon the subsequent court case that followed the motel incident, it represents a dramatic tonal shift that does not quite fit with the rest of the movie.

All of this makes ‘Detroit’ sound like a disappointment, but though it doesn’t live up to the perfect standards we have become used to from Bigelow it is still an impressive achievement of filmmaking. It may be a flawed film but it is undeniably powerful and Bigelow’s direction is impeccable, being frighteningly intense and calmly observant at the same time. It feels unbiased and objective but also emotionally raw and breathtakingly real. Her style of directing remains similar to that of ‘The Hurt Locker’ which makes ‘Detroit’ feel more like a war movie than anything else. There is an unrelenting tension to the movie, even during its quieter scenes that create this atmosphere of a city on the verge of boiling over. It captures both the broader undertones of that era in American history but also the events unfolding directly in front of the audience.

What elevates ‘Detroit’ even more are the fantastic performances by its ensemble cast. Everyone is working at the top of their game so it would be pointless to list them by name, take my word for it in that they are all superb. I will however, highlight two performances as being particularly fantastic and very worthy of awards consideration. The first is John Boyega, who despite not being in the movie as much as the marketing campaign would make you believe, does such a fantastic job of balancing the conflicting aspects of his character. He’s a man trying to restore order to the situation whilst battling his own internal turmoil and Boyega portrays this brilliantly.  The performance that is even more astounding though, is Will Poulter portraying a racist cop. Poulter neglects to portray the character as a one dimensional monster. He plays him with nuance and honesty, providing him with multiple layers that if anything make him even more frightening. This is someone who can blend into any society, but harbours such a horrific kind of prejudice that when it takes charge it becomes all the more shocking.

Masterful on a technical level and boasting some of the best performances of the year, when ‘Detroit’ is at its best it is astonishing. Despite some serious issues with structure and pacing it is still more than worth your time.

Result: 7/10

Thursday 17 August 2017

Annabelle: Creation

"It's coming after me, an evil presence, because it knows I'm the weakest."

So, a prequel to a spin off about a series of horror movies I already thought were grossly overrated. Don’t get me wrong, I like ‘The Conjuring’ as well as its sequel, they’re both perfectly fine horror movies but to see to them praised as being amongst the greatest horror films of all time is frustrating for me given that I find them to be a collection of horror homages that, despite being well done, are things I have seen done better in a dozen different movies before them. The less said about the truly awful ‘Annabelle’ the better, however this prequel is, believe it or not, surprisingly decent.

Former toy maker Sam Mullins and his wife, Esther, are happy to welcome a nun and six orphaned girls into their California farmhouse. Years earlier, the couple's 7-year-old daughter Annabelle died in a tragic car accident. Terror soon strikes when one child sneaks into a forbidden room and finds a seemingly innocent doll that appears to have a life of its own.

Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, I still think ‘Anabelle: Creation’ is of similar quality to ‘The Conjuring’ movies due to leaning a bit too heavily on established horror clichés and not offering up much in the wake of new or innovative ideas as well as being very one dimensional in how it treats its characters. That being said, the craftsmanship behind the movie makes for an effectively chilling horror film that is surprisingly well made, especially considering that its namesake was one of the worst films of 2014.

Another surprising element is how the movie plays more into the psychological aspects of horror than the supernatural. It unfolds quietly and patiently, carefully revealing itself in one escalating set piece at a time so not to leave the audience spent out before it reaches the climax of the film. As he proved with his directorial debut last year ‘Lights Out’ (which was good if not never quite as effective as the short horror film upon which it was based…which he also directed) David Sandberg can craft a highly atmospheric horror sequence with a very simple ground plan. Annabelle as an object of horror does not move, it is merely a prop to represent the demonic presences in the house and the movie seems to know that. It plays with the creeping dread and anticipation that is thrust upon a character just for discovering the cursed doll and then seeks to play with the audience expectations over what precisely will happen next.

While the environment of the film is nothing new, a house in the middle of nowhere complete with secret passages and forbidden rooms, the dynamic of the characters that populate it is. By making all of the major characters young girls Sandberg’s film not only offers a fresh perspective on this genre type but also allows our suspension of disbelief over some of the more ludicrous character decisions in the movie to make sense. Granted, I can’t actually confirm whether or not young orphaned girls would act any more rationally than a group of teenagers/adults when faced with a demonically possessed doll but in the world of the movie’s narrative it allows us to excuse the less logical decisions made by said characters. As well as that, Sandberg adds specific details to his characters that further excuse any potential plot holes. With one character being confined to a wheel chair (someone saw ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ didn’t they?), simply turning and running away is no longer a viable option.

None of the characters are deep but they fill out their purpose with efficiency. They are all sympathetic enough so that the audience can root for them to survive the ordeal and we are treated to some very good performances from this young cast as well. They each distinguish themselves enough to be recognizable and carry their own characteristics that prevent the ensemble merging into either one faceless entity or a collection of character clichés.
Going back to my initial statements on the characters though, same could be said of the plot, which despite being generic and lacking in any meaningful substance, serves its purpose to a degree that feels almost self-aware. ‘Anabelle: Creation’ uses its plot purely as a means to hang some effectively scary horror set pieces from and on that front the movie achieves this very well. While some horror fans may be disappointed by the slower pace of the movie’s first act, I felt that it built very patiently and deliberately in order to deliver the scares later down the road. It lends itself to a tight pacing and structure that means the movie has a very well defined outline as well as clearly distinguishable build ups and pay offs. This may sound like a basic rule but with the horror genre in the current state it is, it’s refreshing to see these steps undertaken so confidently and efficiently.

Though there’s nothing particularly fantastic within it, ‘Annabelle: Creation’ is an effectively scary horror flick that is certain to please fans of the genre.

Result: 6/10

The Dark Tower

"I do not aim with my eye, I aim with my heart." 

I feel like while the rest of the world was speculating on whether or not the adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘The Dark Tower’, I was still busy losing my mind over the mere fact that we were getting this adaptation at all. In fact I still refused to believe that this would even pan out until I was actually seconds away from seeing it as the project has been in development hell for decades. At one point Ron Howard was attached to direct, then it was going to be a HBO series and now finally, here we are. Now there is just the small matter of the actual movie.

Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last Gunslinger, is locked in an eternal battle with Walter O'Dim (Matthew McConaughey), also known as the Man in Black. The Gunslinger must prevent the Man in Black from toppling the Dark Tower, the key that holds the universe together. With the fate of worlds at stake, two men collide in the ultimate battle between good and evil.

Quite often when you envision something in your mind for so long, and become so used to the idea that it will remain in that form forever, it can be difficult to accept an adaptation of said something. King’s book series is a sprawling fantasy epic that (without spoiling anything) is so intertwined with its own medium and story format that it seems hard to imagine it as anything else. I want to get that out of the way from the start since one can fall into the trap of not accepting any new form of a certain story due to loyalty for the old one. But I can assure you, that is not the reason why ‘The Dark Tower’ is the mediocre disappointment that it is.

King began his books with the instantly captivating line of “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed”. The movie, which is 95 minutes long, never even comes close to capturing the same intrigue or captivation as that single sentence. Granted the film is far from an absolute travesty but in a way that is almost a larger crime as at least then it would be somewhat memorable. At the end of the day, ‘The Dark Tower’ is just painfully mediocre in every degree. The only aspects that stand out are its two leads, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, who each fill out their roles with a certain amount of on screen presence that lends a lot to the weighted descriptions both of their characters are given. But everything else within the movie falls frustratingly flat.

The biggest and most prevalent issue with ‘The Dark Tower’ is that as a movie it feels like a sequel to a previous instalment we haven’t seen. The writing never immerses the viewer within the world, never drawing up any intrigue into the characters or their environment, never fleshing out the people it is introducing us to and never providing an adequate explanation as to why I should care about any of it. We are dropped into this world and never given any time to explore it. The characters feel more like an obligation than integral parts of the story and the story itself rattles along with no real drive or urgency. A runtime of 95 minutes would appear to be ill suited to a movie of this kind but when you look at the pace and structure of this movie, it comes across as something that once had a much larger scope but was edited down to its basic components in a bid to rush out a franchise because this is from the same studio who gave us ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’.  

Not only does the runtime hurt the movie’s overall framework but even the more intricate details of its production seem to have been hurt. The movie flies by but not in a way that feels involving, more in a way that feels like if you blinked you could have missed it for how little substance there was within the narrative. ‘The Dark Tower’ feels cobbled together not just in terms of tone or vision but in the actual method of filmmaking, in that the studio just picked up whatever pieces of footage they could find and sewed them together. Occasionally the movie genuinely seemed to feature young actor Tom Taylor visibly aging between scenes as if they were each filmed many months, or maybe even years, apart.

Beside that though, there really isn’t anything atrocious to be found within ‘The Dark Tower’. Its cinematography and direction may be somewhat flat and lifeless but it never seems outright unpleasant to look at. Despite being filmed and designed without any real flair or innovation the action scenes are decently constructed. There really is not anything I can point to as being particularly remarkable either in a positive or negative way. But as I said before that in itself seems like an even greater disservice to the rich and memorable world King created.  

Unremarkable in almost every regard, ‘The Dark Tower’ squanders its rich source material in favour of a bland, generic blockbuster.

Result: 4/10

Sunday 13 August 2017

My Cousin Rachel

"I don't know why you came, I don't know anything about you. All I know is I like it now you're here."

Certain novels can take upon more social relevance as they age, or even be reinterpreted under differing climates to form new kinds of meaning. This means that when it comes to adapting those novels, a filmmaker is presented with an opportunity to refine the narrative in the wake of a modern social context. They can focus on the elements that have become more relevant or present them in a way that bestows new meaning upon them. Given that ‘My Cousin Rachel’ was also adapted into a film back in 1952, it should be interesting to see how this interpretation unfolds.

Philip (Sam Clafin) is a young Englishman who finds his cousin Ambrose dead after traveling to Florence, Italy. He vows revenge against Ambrose's missing wife Rachel (Rachel Weisz), blaming her for his untimely demise. When Philip meets Rachel for the first time, his mood suddenly changes as he finds himself falling for her seductive charm and beauty. As his obsession for her grows, Rachel now hatches a scheme to win back her late husband's estate from the unsuspecting Philip.

Sometimes a film can subvert audience expectations through morphing into an entirely different genre to what we initially thought it would be. Though this can leave initial disappointment there is nothing inherently wrong with doing this, providing that it’s done well. ‘My Cousin Rachel’ begins as a mystery drama but then changes into a sort of gothic romance. As I said, done well this can be a brilliant tool of storytelling, but in the case of ‘My Cousin Rachel’, that isn’t really the case. The movie feels like two different narratives and tonal levels that are constantly at war with one another. Rather than weave these conflicting aspects of the movie together it feels more like each element is being put on hold once the movie remembers that it has a whole other sub-plot to tie together.

The result of all of this is that the scenes of the movie rarely progress in a structure that feels natural to the movie’s narrative. It feels contrived and artificial as the film progresses, and what made it all the worse was that neither aspect felt fully served. It felt like two half completed scripts, one of which at least started interestingly enough but soon fell through in the wake of a rather generic romance story. Having not read the book (I know, uncultured moron) I can’t speak as to how accurate this is to the book, but even if it is there are ways in which a director can work around this.

The first is to ensure that there is a sense of tonal consistently that runs throughout the movie, but ‘My Cousin Rachel’ does not possess that, failing to tie the different elements of the movie together in a way that feels fulfilling. The other is to place your emphasis on elements that feel integral to both, but so much of Roger Michell’s direction feels placed upon conveying one kind of movie until he has to pause those aspects to focus on something entirely different. There’s no gradual progression to this tonal shift, no hint of what’s to come. It just comes across as one narrative beats being developed for a section of the film only to be stopped dead whenever the script requires it.  

Not only does the development and structure of the movie as a whole feel underdeveloped, but so do the characters. There is little to draw us into the plight of these people and rather that focus in on what drives or motivates them, the movie maintains a cold distance that hinders any potential investment. Out viewpoint into the movie is Philip, but he is portrayed in such broad strokes both by the writing and by Sam Clafin’s performance that he never comes across as an interesting character. He lacks the nuance to make him feel like a fleshed out individual whom we can empathise with.  

All of this is a real shame given that Rachel Weisz performance as the titular Rachel is very worthy of praise. She carries such a sense of mystery and intrigue that her presence alone makes the first act of the film feel involving. But of course, the movie then puts all of that on hold to delve into another aspect of the plot instead. Furthermore, as good as Weisz is, it’s frustrating to never gain any insight into what drives Rachel. It would not necessarily be impossible to leave her as an enigma for the entirety of the movie, had Philip been an interesting enough protagonist. But as I already stated his presence in the movie feels so underdeveloped that there is hardly a shred of emotional investment to be had. The movie is solidly made, and its rich cinematography is pleasingly atmospheric, but with so many muddled elements it simply doesn’t work as a whole.

Competently made on a technical level, but too tonally confused and underdeveloped to become anything involving or meaningful.

Result: 5/10

Monday 7 August 2017

Top Ten Movies of 2010

The first year of the new decade may have been a hit and miss affair as far as the big blockbusters were concerned (for every good one there was also an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘Twilight: How Many More of These do we have to Endure’, not to mention the worst crime ever committed in the history of cinema, as well as all of humanity, otherwise known as ‘The Last Airbender’). But what I found within the best films of the year was a commonality in that they were all films of intimate events. Rather than a good helping of grandiose ambition we were treated to intimate character studies. They were small stories about genuine people and with one notable exception I found them all to be movies driven primarily by their characters, kept constantly in momentum as it also sought to deconstruct them.

As ever though I have some honourable mentions. Though I may be murdered in my sleep as a result, ‘Toy Story 3’ did not make my top ten (let down purely for having a narrative that felt a little too repetitive of its predecessors) but I will gladly give it a shout out for its mature themes and emotionally powerful ending that put a brilliant end to Pixar’s trilogy, goodbye childhood. But Dreamworks actually had good competition on the animated front with ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ which as well as having possibly the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen (suck it, ‘Avatar’) also contained a resonant narrative with compelling characters.

We also saw plenty of excellent biopics emerge as serious awards contenders. It pains me to say that I could not find room for David O Russell’s ‘The Fighter’ despite the fact that it features Christian Bale giving one of the best supporting performances I’ve ever seen. Then there was ‘The King’s Speech’ which allowed Colin Firth to once again demonstrate his superb talent for portraying characters conflicted by their own status and personality which would earn him the Academy Award for Best Actor (though he should have won in 2009 for ‘A Single Man’).  

I would be remised if I didn’t mention ‘Tucker and Dale vs Evil’, a hilarious comedy that paid homage to classic slasher films while also parodying them to brilliant effect. I also have to give a mention to ‘Another Year’ by Mike Leigh and ‘Somewhere’ by Sofia Coppola. I also have to recommend some of the great ensemble casts of the year like ‘The Kids Are Alright’, a drama that will make you laugh, and ‘Blue Valentine’, a drama that will make you feel the soul crushing, emptiness of life and force you to confront the notion that every ounce of hope you have is futile. Enjoy.

There were also some brilliant surprises. While it’s no shock that Joel and Ethan Coen would deliver another superbly made, darkly humours and oddly poignant movie, the fact that it was in the form of the western remake ‘True Grit’. But it was a glorious triumph that stands as another terrific entry into the Coen’s filmography as well as the western genre in general. The cast that included Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld and Josh Brolin were fantastic as well as the one and only Jeff Bridges who in my opinion actually gave a better performance here than the one that won him an Oscar in 2009(what the hell, Academy?) What was also surprising was the fact that someone found a way to make a comedy about aspiring ISIS soldiers but ‘Four Lions’ did just that in a comedy that was well as being hilarious also showed more social insight than most serious dramas this year.

Finally, I have two documentaries that are both so bizarre and unique that they could only come from reality. The first is ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’, focussing on one man’s obsession with Street Art and directed by Banksy himself. Then there is ‘Catfish’, a movie one can’t really describe without spoiling it so just trust me when I say that you should watch it if you have not already. But now for the top ten.

10: The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski’s taught political thriller is not only a masterfully crafted piece of filmmaking but also so bitingly relevant that it might as well be labelled a biopic. It displays an inherent knowledge of how to effectively raise tension through dialogue due in part to its incredibly sharp screenplay but also the stylish direction of Polanski who does such an effective job of creating an immersive atmosphere that the rain swept landscape in which the movie takes place is likely to be enough to send chills up your spine. Though on the surface the performances of Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan would appear to be subdued, they actually end  up complementing the films ominous tone and ensure that the audience are constantly guessing over how much truth is being withheld at any one moment, or if anything is even true at all. It’s a low key thriller that harkens back to the classics of the genre whilst boldly moving forward.

9: Incendies

In a film that is both harrowing for its subject matter but also awe inspiring in how effectively it conveys those qualities, Denis Villeneuve’s film is masterfully constructed. It is has the feel of something made by an artist with meticulous control over his craft but also a refined understanding of the human elements that make the story so compelling. Villeneuve knows when to demonstrate his own directing prowess but he also knows when to take a more restrained approach and simply focus on the amazing performances from his actors. Touches like that which allow us to sink into the characters skin and really consider their position are what make ‘Incendies’ so empathetic, to a point where when the movie does show us the more harrowing aspects of its story it feels all the more impactful. It’s a hard hitting movie that highlights the senselessness of hatred as well as its enduring consequences.

8: Winter’s Bone

If you want to know how a film can be crushingly bleak but also poigniantly hopeful simultaneiously, then watch ‘Winter’s Bone’. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and it is not hard to see why. Director Deborah Granik observes her character with an almost documentarian kind of impartialness, that views them not on a moral level but simply a realistic one. She forces you to see the events play out in a realistic manner but also makes it engaging for the movie’s entire runtime. However the talking point of the film, without a doubt, is Jenifer Lawrence’s truly staggering breakout performance. It’s a performance that balances vulnerability with courage so perfectly that the main character never fails to be empathetic, while also playing into the larger developing arc that underpins the movie and making us feel every emotional beat of it.

7: Senna

A documentary that is so intimate and insightful that you might mistake it for a written narrative. The movie follows the life of Formula 1 racing driver Ayrton Senna, regarded by many to be the finest in the history of the sport. It makes the bold choice to not rely on any through commentary and lays its interviews on top of the footage as sound only so there is nothing other than archive footage to tell the story on a visual level. Not only does director Asif Kapadia do a terrific job of capturing Senna’s life through said footage, but the way he structures the documentary gives the audience a real insight into his inner workings. We can sense Senna’s unrestrained passion for the sport, his drive to be the best that he can be and his development over time as he goes from being the rookie of the sport to one of its most dominant participants. ‘Senna’ humanises a larger than life figure but also honours him as a legend.   

6: Inception

I know any Christopher Nolan fans will be fuming at how I’ve placed this relatively low on my list. But remember how I said one film in this top ten has a plot that feels bigger than its characters, yeah this was it. But there’s nothing wrong with that when your narrative and structure is as brilliantly executed as ‘Inception’. The mere fact that people are still discussing the film’s plot, its layers and that very last shot stands as a testament to Nolan’s mastery in terms of crafting an involving story. The film features some of the best directing I’ve seen this year as Nolan pulls out all his skill to bring his twisted dreamscape to life. Alongside that is a terrific ensemble cast made up of JG Levitt, Ken Wantanabe, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard and Michael Caine, lead by the always magnificent Leonardo DiCaprio whose performance adds a much appreciated layer of empathy to the grandiose ideas the film raises. Nolan has high ambitions and within ‘Inception’ he makes them fully realised.

5: Scott Pilgrim vs the World

I can understand claims that ‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World’ is more style than substance, but my immediate response to those claims would be “Who cares when it’s Edgar Wright doing the styling?” I would also argue however, that even amid Wright’s hyper-stylised, energetic action comedy lies a very humane story that balances its character work with its outlandish premise perfectly. The main characters never feel like caricatures as the script gives them empathetic elements for the audience to latch onto. Michael Cera is wonderfully sympathetic in the title role, and his other half played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead slowly gains more depth as the movie goes on to a point where you won’t even notice it happening. Even the characters that are just walking jokes are played with such comedic perfection by the likes of Chris Evans, Brandon Routh and Jason Schwartzman that it becomes infectiously hilarious.

4: I Am Love

I won’t hesitate for a second to call Tilda Swinton’s performance in this film the best of 2010. Putting aside the fact that she learned two new languages specifically for this movie, her role is conflicted, intricate and endlessly powerful in how emotionally raw it is. Swinton’s performance seems to mirror the tone of the movie as a whole, being broadly powerful when it needs to be but also intimately staged throughout. Even the visual language of the film is on the same level, showing its characters in a wide, sweeping environment to show us the wider world which they fit into but also focussing intently on the details and inflexions of their personas. The movie’s production design has a timeless quality to it that only helps make the broad themes and raw emotions even more universally appealing. It’s difficult to even describe it without the visual mastery of the movie to back it up, so all I can say is watch it and experience it for yourself.

3: 127 Hours

Danny Boyle never makes the same movie twice. Every film with his name attached feels fresh, inventive and original and a quick glance at his filmography will confirm this as it includes ’28 Weeks Later’, ‘Trainspotting’ and ‘Sunshine’. Further adding to the variety is this true story of survival that for all the attention given to its final few moments (if you’re that worried about the end just close your eyes and you’ll be fine) is rich and powerful for its entire runtime. Backed by an amazing lead performance by James Franco, Boyle takes us through an inner journey of appreciating life and looking back upon one’s own accomplishments in the face of death. We feel every excruciating minute Aaron Ralston is trapped in that canyon due to how well the film establishes him as a person with so much ambition and so much left to do in the world. ‘127 Hours’ life affirming, inspirational and brilliantly crafted.

2: Black Swan 

Darren Aronofsky seems like an expressive person, and I admit I don’t have much to base that on other than the nature of his movies but I feel like that is a good foundation to make such an assumption. ‘Black Swan’ is a tale of obsession so beautifully and hauntingly rendered on the big screen that one can describe as either a psychological thriller or a full on horror movie. As the mian character’s drive for artistic perfection leads her to lose her grip on reality Aronofsky utilises his unique skills as a filmmaker to lead us through this dark and surreal nightmare. ‘Black Swan’ manages to strike the perfect balance between expressionism and narrative, in that the surreal elements of the movie never distract from our investment in the story itself, meaning that the movie is always tense and involving. This is almost certainly due to Natalie Portman’s excellent lead performance (along with Swinton and Lawrence 2010 was clearly a great year for strong female performances) that is both empathetic and repulsive in how her obsession gradually consumes her. Add in the fact that the film is gorgeously shot, composed and designed then you have a modern expressionist masterwork.

1: The Social Network 

You will struggle to find a film this year, this decade, which is more tightly constructed, meticulously crafted and utterly involving than ‘The Social Network’. By combining the talents of director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, the movie becomes more than just a biopic about the founding of Facebook. It becomes a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, a biting commentary on an entire generation and a story of betrayal and empathy that is so twisted and intense that you will be on the edge of your seat for its entire runtime. I hesitate to call a film perfect, but there is not a single element of ‘The Social Network’ I can point to that feels underdeveloped or out of synch with the rest of the movie. The structure, pacing and editing are all so brilliant that I feel actively jealous. The score by Trent Reznor is define on its own but when used in the film becomes transcendent. Every performance in the film is phenomenal, Jesse Eisenberg’s sociopathic protagonist, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Justin Timberlake, they are all brilliant. Sorkin’s masterfully sharp dialogue is only equalled by David Fincher’s direction, elevating one another to new heights of brilliance. Who knew that the internet age could be this thrilling?