Friday, 28 September 2018

American Animals

"I don't want you waking up years from now and wondering what could have happened, or what you could have been."

The further we go into 2018 the more it becomes obvious that this year’s Sundance Film Festival was exceptionally strong. Having given platforms to great talents making their first foray into directing like Boots Riley’s ‘Sorry to Bother You’, Ari Aster’s ‘Hereditary’, Jenifer Fox’s ‘The Tale’ and Bo Burnham’s ‘Eighth Grade’, (very likely to be more as well which have yet to see) all of which have made a significant mark on the indie scene and even reached into the mainstream consciousness in some small way. You can add another entry to that list in the form of Bart Layton’s ‘American Animals.

In 2004 Spencer Reinhard’s (Barry Keoghan) interest is peaked by a valuable collection of books held in the library within Transylvania University which he attends. As he and his friend Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) jokingly flaunt the idea of stealing them, they soon find their hypothetical plan shaping into a reality. Along with two other collaborators they partake in one of the strangest and most paradoxical heists in recent American history.

There are so many points within ‘American Animals’ where director Bart Layton could have fallen into the trap of letting his storytelling devices compensate for a lack of substance. It could have strayed into an area which would feel more like a gimmick than a motivated choice. But consistently and repeatedly Layton bestows his film with added gravitas and emotional depth that make the stylistic tendencies all the more involving. ‘American Animals’ is a fresh take on the heist film that worships the conventions of the genre just as much as it flies in the face of established rules.

So much within ‘American Animals’ rests on blurring the lines between truth and fiction, not just stylistically but thematically as well. For the first half of the film its subjects toy with the idea of a heist as a means to invigorate their lives, playing with it and planning it from purely a fictional standpoint. The second half of the film then slowly lures the audience and the characters into an awareness that the reality of the situation is inescapable. Moments that other heist movies breeze past are treated as major obstacles in ‘American Animals’ because in reality that is exactly what they are.

Layton’s visual language is so dynamic and engaging that it circumnavigates the fact that the film essentially gives away the broader outcome of the heist from the start. Though there are still plenty of details and nuances that remain hidden, ‘American Animals’ gives you an indication of where it’s characters will inevitably end up. Ultimately that works in the story’s favour in terms of gravitas. Watching the heist through its stages elicits a sense of dread as the audience become more aware of just how the plan will unfold. So rather than come across as predictable, Layton’s directorial devices draw the viewer deeper into the momentary action while his storytelling choices make the film more thematically fulfilling.

‘American Animals’ does not truly give an explanation to the actions or motivations of its characters on any specific level, which can be somewhat unsatisfying for those looking for clear depth but once again this irregularity within its storytelling works in the film’s favour. It cannot explain the motivations of the characters because ultimately they themselves don’t even know. They have a broad sense of emptiness in their lives and a need to accomplish something by any costs. Which the film both sympathises with and condemns. There are many wide and empty shots that frame these young men as individuals desperately seeking purpose, which is effective in its own right. But at the same time Layton fills his film with heavy and haunting moments that allow the true damage of what these people are partaking in to really hit home for them and the viewer.

Transitioning from an unassuming university student to a group of criminals is a substantial jump, and it would be easy to make it appear jarring if done without nuance and conviction. But the impressive cast of ‘American Animals’ lead with perfect trepidation. Peters and Keoghan move forward from scene to scene with a great sense of placement in the broader story, communicating the very gradual development that their characters make from playfully hypothesising a robbery to carrying it out in its full extent. Much like the screenplay they reconcile the conflicting attitudes an audience will feel towards the main characters, showcasing some signs of empathy and moving slowly towards condemnation. By the time the third act of ‘American Animals’ is in motion the characters are both in way over their heads but also tragic figures of their own making. It’s a balance that is difficult to convey with clarity but the young cast do so excellently.

Slick and stylish at times but heavy and horrifying at others, ‘American Animals’ is a brilliantly original take on the heist movie formula.

Result: 8/10

Mile 22

"Do you wanna live in a world where everyone feels cosy and validated all the time, or do you wanna live in a world that works."

Peter Berg and Mark Walberg currently stand at four collaborative efforts, with ‘Mile 22’ following the actor/director combination that brought us ‘Lone Survivor’, ‘Deepwater Horizon’ and ‘Patriot’s Day’. While these films were all serviceable I’d argue none of that is essential to either Berg or Walberg’s involvement. They fill their roles and move the product along but neither one of them seemed to elevate their material which in itself was also perfectly average. It will be interesting to see them paired with a script of genuine brilliance, or as well as one of true awfulness.

CIA operative James Silva (Mark Walberg) leads a small but lethal paramilitary team on an urgent and dangerous mission. They must transport a foreign intelligence asset from an American embassy in Southeast Asia to an airfield for extraction, a distance of 22 miles. Silva and the soldiers soon find themselves in a race against time as the city's military, police and street gangs close in to reclaim the asset.

It is somewhat paradoxical that ‘Mile 22’ manages to be the lesser of all the Berg/Walberg collaborations we have seen so far but simultaneously has by far the most going on within its narrative. There are many surprisingly intriguing turns which both the plot and characters take that showcase a fair amount of ambitious storytelling. But that also works to its detriment as the film hardly feels like a cohesive whole. There are any number of narrative beats that undercut one another, character traits that are completely inconsistent throughout the film as well as a general tone settles on what it wants to be.

Those conflicting qualities are perhaps best exemplified by the protagonist portrayed by Walberg. With a charismatic screen presence I was initially surprised to see Walberg portraying a character introduced as carrying some social awkwardness. It’s an interesting angle that I would be intrigued to see the actor explore to some degree. However the film contradicts this characterisation in how Walberg’s character almost always takes centre stage in each scene, controls every room effortlessly and talks almost non-stop throughout the film. It’s especially confusing given that the character’s apparent awkwardness is tied into his development across the film and yet nothing about him showcases the qualities which script keeps insisting he inhabits.  

More so than Walberg I would the real star of ‘Mile 22’ is Iko Uwais. Famed for his visceral martial artistry in ‘The Raid’ films, Uwais is a master at conveying an emotional output through pure physicality. His movement within the action sequences is electrifying to watch and frankly stands head and shoulders above the choreography of anyone else within the film. So many of the action scenes are staged in a static manner but with Uwais the punches and kicks possess a kinetic rhythm to them.

It is a shame that even these moments can’t be enjoyed to their full extent due to some horrendously misguided editing choices. The editing never conveys a clear sense of movement within the action and none of the cuts feel even remotely motivated. Instead we watch a sequence of events that have been edited seemingly at random, with each shot featuring a painful overreliance on shaky cam. ‘Mile 22’ does not showcase action as much as it just approximates it. There’s a vague understanding of where each character is and how the action is developing, at best. At worst it is complete and utter chaos.

That being said, if the editing served to make the action unreadable then the films structure might be an even more severe flaw on that front. The movie flips back and forth on its choice of framework for the story, sometimes conveying it through a set of flashbacks literally being narrated over by Walberg as he explains the plot to the audience. But there is almost no indicator of where and how these framing devices come into play, so Walberg’s narration can be jarring and break what little momentum the action had already. If anything it feels oddly reminiscent of a storytelling device Christopher McQuarrie used earlier this year in ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’. But where that method was utilised for a single scene, Berg tries to have multiple scenes play out at length under this guise.

As I said there are fragments of interest within ‘Mile 22’ that could potentially be worthwhile ideas. There are some action set pieces that complement the more enclosed nature of the narrative and have an aura of claustrophobia about them. There are several characters who have degrees of interest in how they are introduced but the movie either fails to follow through on that interest or simply contradicts them. It seems as if half of the ideas within ‘Mile 22’ were worth expanding on, while the other half were better off left on the cutting room floor.

Confusingly structured and poorly executed, ‘Mile 22’ shows some signs of promise but never delivers on its ambition.

Result: 3/10

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbour

"The greatest thing we can do is teach someone that they are loved, and capable of loving."

I never watched ‘Mr Rogers Neighbourhood’ during my childhood, having firstly not been of the right generation to see it when it first aired and due to the fact that, as far as I know, no TV channels in the UK exhibited reruns of it. In hindsight that is probably a shame, as even without the benefit of seeing this documentary on the titular Mr Rogers it was clearly a show made with great care and affinity for the well-being of its viewers. But even a familiarity with the show would have been unlikely to prepare me for the story of the man himself.

Following the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, the host and creator of the classic children’s programme ‘Mr Rogers’ Neighbourhood’. Looking at how he went from an ordained minister who had never even owned a TV to an icon of the medium for the ages, this documentary is an examination of Roger’s principles, his devotion to his audience and why he felt his little show was so valuable to growing minds.

So as I said, I don’t have any nostalgic connection to ‘Mr Rogers Neighbourhood’, having never actually seen an episode or any long form clips prior to this documentary. Even from a distance it is easy to see why the series was so revered and respected, with Rogers using his platform to talk to children about issues that could be as serious as divorce, assassination or prejudice. He was clearly an educator who never spoke down to his pupils and respected his audience’s attention just as much as they admired his presence. Had ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbour’ been nothing more than a recap of the show I would still have considered myself impressed with the examination of a principled and endearing television institute.

But Morgan Neville’s film succeeds in showcasing a side of Rogers that is simultaneously surprising and predictable. Namely that his kindly presence in front of the camera was not an act, it was simply a showcase of himself as a person. It’s almost jarring to see a figure of such sincerity and honesty in this kind of spotlight. Someone who is so devoted to their craft yet never sacrificed their own integrity to do so, or held any hidden agenda they kept from the public. It is important to remember the people like Fred Rogers, who simply wanted to teach and educate not just in regards to knowledge but also to emotional maturity, as well as how honestly and openly he did so.

With that going for him it would be easy for ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbour’ to paint in broad strokes and end up with a one note portrayal of Rogers. But Neville’s examination of Rogers is ultimately a story about an artist who battled insecurities and fears concerning his craft. Neville contrasts the earnestness of ‘Mr Rogers’ Neighbourhood’ with the anxieties of Rogers the man. Furthermore it highlights how these fears are in essence what allowed Rogers to speak to children in a crucial way. He understood their emotional depth and apprehensions just as he did his own, and often but that into his programme as a means to communicate and relate to his audience.

Once you realise how much this documentary is seeking to express the inner thoughts of Rogers as his life and the context around it passed by, you begin to realise how masterfully they have edited in parts of his show. So much of Rogers own thoughts and inner emotions were conveyed via his puppets, and how in a way they each represented a different facet of him as a person. The more you acknowledge this, the more depth is bestowed into the clips the documentary shows. ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbour’ possesses a flowing narrative thanks to a loose structure that follows thoughts and tangents rather than a standard chronological retelling.

That isn’t to say that the film does not go out of its way to provide some historical context towards Rogers life as it unfolds but it does so more as a framework. Perhaps that is what allows ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbour’ to be as emotionally affecting as it is. There is rarely a sense that the film is merely reciting an oral history of a show but rather communicating the emotions and principles of an artist as he navigated the world around him. I defy anyone to not be genuinely moved at his impassioned speech to the US senate in which he urged them not to cut the funding for Public Broadcast television, or to be angered when 21st Century conservative news pundits (good old Fox News, of course) accuse Rogers of “ruining a generation” by telling children they were special for being themselves.

Perhaps the most affecting part of the film is something that remains unspoken, an undercurrent that might not even be intentional but holds great weight through implication. That being how much the world might need a figure like Mr Rogers now. Even if you don’t subscribe to the idea that the world is falling apart around us right now (if so, please tell me our secret) there’s little doubt that at the very least the world is a little less bright when someone like Fred Rogers is no longer in it.

Emotionally affecting and astonishingly endearing, ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbour’ is a sincere and complex look at an artist living to fulfil his goals.

Result: 8/10

Friday, 21 September 2018

The Predator

"Do you know what my job description is? I look up and I catch what falls out of the sky."

It seemed as if the idea of a new instalment of the ‘Predator’ franchise with Shane Black in the writer/director’s chair was a perfect concept. Black is one of the best at high concept action that blends the volatile and interesting psyche of unique characters with high stakes narratives that unfold with humour, tension and depth. I immediately conjured up images of something akin to ‘The Nice Guys’ or ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ with a Predator thrown into the mix. Black even had a small role in the 1987 original to complete the circular perfection of him being put in charge.

From the outer reaches of space to the small-town streets of suburbia, the hunt comes home. The universe's most lethal hunters are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from other species. When a boy accidentally triggers their return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and an evolutionary biologist can prevent the end of the human race.

So as I said, there was every reason to expect ‘The Predator’ to be the long overdue return to form for the franchise and finally bring us an instalment that could rival the Schwarzenegger action classic. However it brings me no joy to say that ‘The Predator’ is a colossal disappointment, easily Black’s weakest film as a director and verging on the incoherent at times. It amounts a mess of stylistic flourishes that, while interesting, are not allowed to evolve into anything meaningful combined with studio mandated additions in an effort to drive a more serious tone that ultimately falls flat.

If you were to describe the amount of ground covered by ‘The Predator’ you would then be surprised to hear that the film comes in at a somewhat short 95 minute runtime.  This was likely the result of 20th Century Fox looking to cut and capitalise on an increasingly bizarre movie that was very clearly not what they sought to achieve with this franchise. As they did with David Fincher’s ‘Alien 3’ and Josh Trank’s ‘Fant4stic’, Fox have disturbed a film that contains vague allusions to what its director originally wanted but then descends into a generic and faceless mess.

That being said, I worry that Black’s original vision might not have been all that compelling in the first place. Though it’s possible his full version did indeed add depth, substance and development to every thematic arc he introduces there’s such a large amount on offer in ‘The Predator’ that I can’t imagine him addressing every one of these and still having a cohesive movie. There are enough plot threads and high concept arcs to sustain an entire franchise within this script, but instead ‘The Predator’ opts to introduce them all without ever endowing them with any kind of arc or significant impact on the narrative.

The same goes for the characters, though the assembled cast are all impressive and they each have the semblance of an intriguing character arc to begin with, none of them are allowed to develop in a way that feels earned or properly paced. At best a character will get a rushed and unfulfilling resolution to their arc, at worse they are dropped altogether. The bright spots are the moments in which they are simply trading dialogue, as it lets Black showcase his trademark snappy and confrontational conversations. As well as that it’s hard not to love the gory anarchistic glee in which the film displays it’s biggest action set pieces, as well as the fitting 80s flavoured soundtrack. Outside of that however, there is much to be desired.

Speaking of casting I want to take a minute to at least address the controversy surrounding Black’s casting of registered sex offender Steven Wilder for a minor role. I take issue with calling it a “controversy” because that implies there is a debate to be had, when the simple fact is that Wilder should not have been cast, Black should have known better and was very much in the wrong, while Olivia Munn is most definitely not in the wrong for demanding that the scenes featuring Wilder be cut.

The fact that a controversy of that scale was more of an afterthought in addressing where ‘The Predator’ made a misstep speaks a lot. Black does at least alleviate the issues by emplying his usual tongue in cheek, self-referential style of comedy to lighten the film’s tone. But in another sense that also clashes heavily with the tonal requirements when the film then demands to be taken seriously on a narrative level. Black can’t quite reconcile the two tones as he has done on other occasions.

On a scripting level perhaps one could overlook the cognitive discconance within the narrative of ‘The Predator’ but any hope the film had ay being cohesive is torn to shreds by the editing. The cuts are sloppy and unsubtle, with no attempt to convey a sense of pace of rhythm on a momentary or scene to scene basis. Any singular moment, when taken out of context, might hold up. But when trying to place it within the greater framework of the story and action beats the result is exhausting. 

‘The Predator’ is a mess of a movie. Despite some entertaining moments there are too few compelling beats in the action or story to make it anything other than a huge disappointment.

Result: 4/10

Sunday, 16 September 2018


"With the right white man we can do anything."

For four decades Spike Lee has been defining the American experience and social environment at each specific point in time through his filmmaking. In the 1980s he shone a spotlight on racial tension with ‘Do the Right Thing’, in the 1990s his biopic ‘Malcolm X’ utilised activism and growth from the past to reflect the films contemporary context. Then he distilled post 9/11 anxiety in the quietly beautiful ‘25th Hour’. Now in the 2010s he brings us ‘BlacKkKlansman’, and it goes saying that Lee has some topics he wants to discuss.

It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. Teaming up with a white officer named Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), the two detectives descend into a world of prejudice, hate and extremism.

Roger Ebert wrote of Lee that while some have labelled him an angry filmmaker such a description oversimplifies his message, that being said if Lee is angry he has plenty to be angry for. Perhaps it isn’t just anger that punctuates a lot of ‘BlacKKlansman’ but rather more disappointment. The fact that a story about race relations in the 1970s feels so painfully applicable to the world of today is a depressing realisation. Lee wants to note the heroism in the actions of Stallworth, but there’s an underlying sadness to how we seem to have regressed since then.

In case you were unaware this is a heavily political movie, so it would be somewhat insulting to pretend that there is any way to review it outside of politics. Lee’s intent is clear and obvious, drawing direct parallels to present day America. The last few minutes of ‘BlacKklansman’ are a gut punch that adds greater context and meaning to the story that preceded them. It’s emotionally provocative and powerfully direct. Spike Lee has indeed made another decade defining masterpiece, but saying that a story like this will define the 2010s is a hard pill to swallow.

Ironically, for a film that has so many heavy social themes, ‘BlacKkKlansman’ sees Lee at his most free spirited and playful. Despite the underlying darkness, Lee approaches Stallwprth’s story with the finesse of a crime caper, carrying comedic undertones you would expect to see from the likes of Tarantino or the Coen Brothers. For a Spike Lee film it’s incredibly accessible, often striking a delicate balance between humour and discomfort. The inherent absurdity behind this true story is never lost on Lee and his filmmaking is often keen to highlight that.

I’m finding it difficult to even discuss ‘BlacKklansman’ in anything other than a broader sense because in many ways it embodies Lee’s career as a whole to this point. Having often reconciled his activist sensibilities with his clear affinity for classic Hollywood storytelling, it’s Lee’s ability to render these complex issues as accessible stories that has made his statements within each effort feel so bold. The directness of Lee’s statement strikes a heavy contrast to the  immersive portrait he crafts. His visual language in ‘BlacKKlansman’ regularly follows a trait of framing the characters in tight close ups only to then cut to a wider angle. It’s as if Lee draws the viewer into the story where he delivers the ugly prejudice with a wry comedic wit, only to then take a step back and in doing so asks the viewer to do the same where the true horror hits you. It’s an effective one-two punch that the film evokes numerous times.

But having talked so much about themes it’s important to remember that ‘BlacKkKlansman’ is quite simply an electrifying piece of filmmaking. The dialogue is crisp and sharp, the story jumps from moments of dark comedy to nail biting tension without ever carrying a tonal disconnect. The film balances its comedic wit, involving tension, heavy themes and empathic characterisations in a terrifically paced and thoroughly entertaining package. It manages to interweave a series of conversational set pieces that clearly act as a means for Lee to deliver his statement and topics but these scenes never feel heavy handed or manipulative. They are just as engaging as the film’s central plot.

Part of that engagement comes from a number of excellent performances. As the son of Denzel I can’t even fathom how much expectation was laid upon John David Washington but he carries the same spark of charisma as his father (and praise can’t really come come much higher than that). Washington has a youthful energy to his performance that constantly reinforces his drive and determination to make a difference. Simultaneously though this energy often transforms into a quiet gravitas as the wider context of what Stallworth’s case says about America as a whole.

Then there is Adam Driver who further cements himself as one of the most gifted actors in today’s filmic landscape. Unlike Stallworth, Zimmerman has a greater sense of development in how he begins to reconnect with his Jewish heritage upon seeing unrestrained anti-Semitism up close and just as his partner struggles to separate the professional from the persona, so does he. Driver conveys every step of that arc with absolute perfection, saying in a single gesture what actors would struggle to do in a paragraph of speech. As well as that, everything about Topher Grace’s turn as David Duke, from the execution to just the mere notion of casting such an unlikely choice for the role, is absolute genius.

‘BlacKkKlansman’ is provocative and direct in a way that few films dare to be, as well as hugely entertaining and engaging.

Result: 10/10

Wednesday, 12 September 2018


"There is no choice, only what you do."

One of the most valuable things about watching a terrible film is that it can provide a fascinating insight into the ways in which other films that are similar manage to be good. There are many films about organised crime, some of which are among the best in films in history. ‘Gotti’ (as much as I hate to use hyperbole) could well be the worst film to ever tackle the subject of organised crime. But at least you might walkway with an even bigger respect for those gangster movies that do work.

Chronicling the story of John Gotti (John Travolta), a mafia boss who reigned over the criminal scene in New York for three decades and once regarded as the most powerful and dangerous crime bosses in America. As his empire expands, Gotti has to reconcile protecting his family with keeping a firm grip on the criminal scene he presides over.

In all honesty the controversy surrounding the release of ‘Gotti’ might make for a far more interesting film than whatever haphazard product hit cinema screens earlier this year. I’m actually glad I waited to review the film so as to see the whole debacle play out. It began as the films official marketing campaign actively hitting back at the critics who penned negative reviews by encouraging audiences not to trust “trolls behind keyboards” (well, I’ve been called worse things). The marketing also took pains to point out the film’s high audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However said rating was suspected to have been drastically manipulated as critic and industry commentator Dan Murrell noted both the abnormally high use of “users” giving ‘Gotti’ a high rating as well as the fact that many of these accounts had given scores only for ‘Gotti’ and nothing else.

This is all without mentioning the fact that the studio in question is MoviePass Ventures which is a whole other car crash situation in of itself. I advise anyone who is unaware to Google the company’s name and bask in the unfolding saga, since I simply don’t have the space to address it here. It’s a story almost as bizarre as the way in which ‘Gotti’ is presented. What we have here is a film that manages to engage in every tired cliché and trope about gangsters, right up to and then way beyond the point of parody, but somehow executes each one in a manner that circumnavigates their function.

Here’s an example. ‘Gotti’ starts, as many gangster movies do, with narration from its title character. Normally this storytelling device works to frame the story and provide a sense of structure from which the narrative can evolve whilst retaining its focus and point of perspective. But that is not what happens here. There is no consistent point of view or perspective as the movie drags on. It seemingly jumps through eras of its subjects life at random, gets lost inside facets within facets of story beats, somehow seems to get confused with its own focal point as it muddles its way towards the conclusion. ‘Gotti’ may truly be one of the most confusing movies you will ever watch.

In fairness I think the issue of focus might not be an inherent problem with the script as much as it is an issue in the execution. In films like ‘Goodfellas’, the movie creates a sense of atmosphere and environment through music. It’s not an exact science but by playing Tony Bennet at one point in the movie and slowly transitioning in style and era to the likes of Eric Clapton, the audience intuitively understands that some years have passed. ‘Gotti’ has a soundtrack but much it is from the musical infamy of Pitbull. Scenes set within the 1960s through to the 1980s are all accompanied by the sounds of Pitbull songs, which makes the general time and era somewhat hard to pinpoint.

It also doesn’t help that much of the scenes in ‘Gotti’ are set within drab, flat interiors that do little to evoke any sense of location. So many of the scenes play out in the exact same manner with the same formulaic method of staging. Gangster sitting around a table pontificating about manhood, loosely skipping over details that might make Gotti’s ascendancy and characterisation feel more fleshed out. Every character is presented as an over the top caricature, with dialogue to match. So when the film then tries to deliver any kind of payoff in its third act wherein it thinks the audience sees these mobsters as dimensional people is utterly laughable.

There are so many aspects of ‘Gotti’ that feel like a sketch comedy scene that mysteriously warped into its own deranged entity. From the minimal set design, to the over handed dialogue and even Travolta’s central performance. Travolta remains highly expressionistic throughout the film, whilst also trying to contain it within a character the script and narrative continually frames as a quiet outsider and the two motifs do not mesh at all. If anything part of me wonders of Travolta was the only person who understood the tone ‘Gotti’ should have aimed for, pure comedic value.

‘Gotti’ is a haphazardly assembled mess of a movie that feels like a parody of a mob movie that someone mistakenly tried to play with a straight face.

Result: 1/10

Saturday, 8 September 2018

2018 Fall Movie Season Preview

So once again we find ourselves at that point in the year wherein we have to get serious and start talking about movies that are considered “prestigious” by all the awards crowds. Providing of course that the Academy doesn’t perform a U-turn on its decision to override the proposed “Best Popular Film” category (thank all that is holy) because otherwise we’ll be seeing Barry Jenkins’ or Damien Chazelle’s next awards speech being cut short so we can give recognition the Oscar winning ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’.

Putting aside the usual Oscar connotations though, the fall season regularly yield some of the best and brightest of the year’s cinema. I get that I may sound somewhat elitists and I love summer blockbusters as much as anyone, but there’s nothing quite like seeing a film that well and truly feels like it has been birthed from a filmmakers creative and quixotic prowess. This time of year has that and more in abundance. So as ever I’m listing the ten movies for the remainder of the years than I am most excited to see.

First though, some honourable mentions. There are still a few late year blockbusters that have me intrigued on some level. Shane Black is looking to bring new life to an aging franchise with ‘The Predator’. Sony may be doing all the wrong things when it comes to their other superhero title but ‘Into the Spider-Verse’ looks like one of the most visually dynamic animated features I’ve seen in a long time. After Rob Zombie’s misguided remake you’d think we would be tired of new entries to this franchise, but with some phenomenal trailers and a ridiculous amount of talent behind it, I am beyond excited to see what David Gordon Green can accomplish with ‘Halloween’.

There are also plenty of films shaping up to be potential awards contenders. ‘Beautiful Boy’ and ‘Boy Erased’ both look like affecting dramas that should give their cast plenty of opportunities to flex their impactful range. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ could also yield some praise for Rami Malek as the Mr Robot star arrives on the big screen in full force with what looks like an electrifying portrayal of Freddie Mercury. ‘A Star is Born’ also carries plenty of promise with it, as does ‘Mary Queen of Scots’.

But as great as the usual awards contenders are, there are some even more interesting offers on hand from some of today’s best filmmakers. Jason Reitman is releasing his second film of 2018 as he directs Hugh Jackman in ‘The Front Runner’. Yann Demange has a twisted, more truth than fiction, crime biopic called ‘White Boy Rick’ coming out. Paul Dano makes his directorial debut with ‘Wildlife’, and speaking of actors making the jump to directing we also have to look out for Jonah Hill’s ‘Mid90s’. Mike Leigh has ‘Peterloo’, Jeremy Saulnier has ‘Hold the Dark’ and Adam McKay has ‘Backseat’. Plus there’s also ‘Destroyer’, ‘On the Basis of Sex’, ‘Cold War’, ‘Shoplifters’, ‘Under Silver Lake’…yeah basically a lot of great stuff that I’m excited for. That’s what I’m saying.

10: Bad Times at the El Royale

I get the sense that Drew Goddard is weirdly underrated as a filmmaker despite being the writer/director of several fantastically entertaining and brilliantly crafted films. Having directed ‘Cabin in the Woods’ and penned ‘The Martian’, his next project is the first one that will see him directing his own screenplay, and it looks thrillingly psychotic as well as brilliantly stylish. With a premise that is simply “seven strangers meet at a rundown hotel with a dark past” there’s a great openness to the story potential and I can’t wait to see what deranged and twisted treats Goddard has in store, especially with an all-star cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm and Chris Hemsworth. Plus the trailer looks amazing.

9: The Sisters Brothers

Jacques Audiard has rapidly become one of the best directors working on the global cinematic stage of this decade. Since 2009 the gifted director has given us ‘A Prophet’, ‘Rust and Bone’ and the Palme d’Or winning ‘Dheepan’. Three remarkable and amazingly varied films, now to be joined by Audiard’s next directorial outing, a darkly comedic western starring Joaquin Phoenix and John C Riley as two sibling assassins caught up in the California gold rush. With that kind of talent it’s hard not to be immediately intrigued and hope that Audiard’s first English language film can measure up to the greatness of his previous efforts.

8: Suspiria

I admit it’s easy to be sceptical of a horror remake, particularly a remake of a horror film that is as bold and distinct as Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece. However I also can’t ignore the sheer potential that lies with handing this project to a director as gifted as Luca Guadagnino, who has delivered one expressionistic and atmospheric powerhouse after another in the form of ‘I Am Love’, ‘A Bigger Splash’ and ‘Call Me By Your Name’. Guadagnino is a highly sensual filmmaker, so to see his sensibilities applied to an unrestrained horror story should be something truly monumental to witness, as well as probably not for the faint hearted.

7: The Old Man and the Gun

You would struggle to find a director with a more diverse career in terms of one film to another than David Lowery. From directing the whimsical (and super underrated) ‘Pete’s Dragon’ remake to the artful and utterly unique mediation on grief known as ‘A Ghost Story’, he now helms this upcoming crime comedy. But as remarkable of a filmmaker as Lowery is, the main draw surrounding ‘The Old Man and the Gun’ is that it is set to be Robert Redford’s final role as the screen legend announced his intent to retire. As sad as that may be if it proves to be true, it makes you wonder if Redford himself thought there would be no better way to bow out than this story of an aging career criminal. We shall have to wait and see.

6: The Favourite

If you are looking for a set of films that are in equal parts disturbing and amusing, then you be hard pressed to find a better example of that spectrum than the career of Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne, the film sees Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone portraying two duelling socialites battling over Anne’s affections. This is the first of Lanthimos’ films which he had no part writing, but his unique DNA is still all over this through his unique framing and compositional choices, and establishes ‘The Favourite’ as the latest in a series of wonderful cinematic oddities.  

5: High Life

When it comes to filmmakers who embody the idea of pure cinematic storytelling, one need look no further than the unfathomable talent of Claire Denis. It’s Denis’ most ambitious and biggest film to date by a wide margin, and hopefully none of her cinematic prowess is lost in the process since the premise alone promises to offer a plethora of mind bending science fiction concepts that could cement this as a classic of the genre. It’s also intriguing to see Robert Pattinson’s career trajectory as he continues to work with gifted filmmakers like David Cronenberg, Werner Herzog and now Claire Denis. In addition the film also features Juliet Binoche, whose presence in any movie is factually proven to make said movie even better.

4: If Beale Street Could Talk

As phenomenal as ‘Moonlight’ was, perhaps my biggest take away from it was the sheer excitement to see more movies from the now established talent of Barry Jenkins. His next film seems intent on being just as socially minded and ambitious as his striking breakout feature. Adapting James Baldwin’s widely acclaimed novel of the same name, Jenkins film promises to be an impactful and moving experience, the kind of story that is sorely needed in today’s climate and will likely be a major awards contender. It also boasts a terrific ensemble cast that I’m sure will have no difficulty bringing the powerful material to the big screen with all of its emotional impact and then some.

3: First Man

It seems we are to have a repeat of the 2016 Oscar race between Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’ and Damien Chazelle’s ‘La La Land’ because whilst Jenkins returns with the aforementioned ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’, Chazelle is delivering a biopic of Neil Armstrong titled ‘First Man’. Though it is a departure from Chazelle’s previous work (part of me is holding out hope for a surprise Jazz band or an appearance by JK Simmons on the moon), his filmmaking has always possessed a kinetic energy that could lend itself to some masterfully thrilling action sequences, which ‘First Man’ promises in abundance. Reuniting with Ryan Gosling for the lead role, Chazelle could be set to win the hearts of every awards jury all over again.

2: Widows

With a series of emotionally harrowing dramas under his belt, it’s interesting to see Steve McQueen take on a new genre in the form of a thriller. After four armed robbers are killed in a failed heist, their widows elect to finish the job their late husbands started. There are ensemble casts, and then there’s ‘Widows’ whose line-up includes the likes of Viola Davies, Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, Michele Rodriguez, Daniel Kaluuya, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall and many more. McQueen’s impeccable craft that permeates everything he makes is something I cannot wait to see used to construct a thriller of this manner, particularly one that so willingly defies the standard Hollywood conventions for the genre. As more female led films tap into box office success it wouldn’t surprise me if ‘Widows’ strikes a chord with mass audiences whilst also garnering substantial praise.

1: Roma

Though he is renowned for his technical marvel ‘Gravity’ as well as his seminal science fiction masterpiece ‘Children of Men’, it’s hard not to feel a slight longing for Alfonso Cuaron’s deeply personal cinematic side. Luckily it seems that nearly two decades after his enigmatic coming of age magnum opus ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’, Cuaron is helming what looks to be a hauntingly intimate portrayal of a middle class Mexican family. Based heavily on the directors own childhood and shot in gorgeous black and white photography, one needs only look at a single frame of Cuaron’s upcoming film to know that it is something the director has poured every semblance of his being into. Nothing else in the fall season looks to be as beautifully personal or as impressively cinematic as what Cuaron is promising to deliver.