Films of the Year- 2019

As we say goodbye to this decade, here is my top ten films of 2019.  I found it really hard this time to pick the outright top spot- I was torn between head vs heart, to a film that bewitched and disorientated me against a film that gave me the warmest, most beautiful feeling. In the end I realised I didn’t have to and that’s the beauty of cinema, one moment it can break and destroy you and in another moment it can put you back together and make you hopeful again. And I wouldn’t have it any other way x

Films 2019

10) Ad Astra (James Gray)

One of 2019s most visually stunning film is James Gray’s beautiful and meditative space opera Ad Astra. Brad Pitt plays Major Roy McBride, a controlled and composed loner who is seemingly void of emotion and affect, strengthened by the fact that his pulse never quickens or rises above 80. He is tasked with travelling to Neptune, to make contact with his long-lost father (Tommy Lee Jones), who has been absent for the majority of Roy’s life and who was heralded a space hero but who may also be responsible for a bout of cosmic rays that threaten life on earth.

Gray’s film has been dubbed Apocalypse Now in space and it is easy to see the comparisons. Pitt’s lonesome astronaut makes his intergalactic journey through the vast and merciless terrain, heading for a climatic confrontation with Jones’ world-weary rogue who seems hell bent on bringing chaos and destruction to something he once stood for. But whilst Ad Astra recalls the cinematic past, it also represents a wholly believable and not too distant future, its depiction of space travel and colonising the Moon for tourism is but a breath away. It shows how we have taken the excitement and the ground-breaking possibility of trips beyond our earth and reduced them to creating a carbon copy of the mundane trappings of life on our planet with the Moon playing host to shopping malls and coffee shops. It is a depiction that feels firmly rooted in reality, that our species can only degrade and destroy what we once were in wonder of.

What Ad Astra also achieves is creating the feeling of what it would be like to be in space, the film’s contemplative pace makes us feel the infinite void and the enormous stretches of time that one must endure to reach our destination. The colour palette is a tableau of beautiful hues that enhance the depths of the galaxy but also the inner existential crisis of Roy’s abandonment issues and his reluctance to register emotion. The film’s cinematography is breath-taking and provides one of the most immersive and real portrayals of space since Gravity. Go to see it on the biggest screen you can, is to marvel at its visual bounty.

In Pitt, Gray also finds his ace in the hole, with a face that could launch a thousand (space) ships, the actor has never looked better, his brooding surface perfectly encapsulates the look of an all-American hero but also someone bereft of succumbing to anything that may acknowledge any feelings. With seemingly little effort, Pitt turns out one of his best performances in years, with the aid of Gray’s camera which relishes in focusing on its leading actors’ features.

Ad Astra feels like grown up filmmaking, one that refuses to bend to the will of modern movie law, where action must drive and maintain our attention. This means that its glacial feel and pace will not be to everyone’s taste, save for a couple of pulse quickening scenes including a thrilling buggy chase on the surface of the moon, the film is happy to match the low resting heartbeat of its protagonist. But it is a film of endless splendour, taking us to the inner corners of the soul and the outer reaches of our world and it may just be the most beautiful sad man in space picture that we have ever witnessed.

9) The Peanut Butter Falcon (Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz)

Whilst as movie lovers we often want to be challenged, to be dazzled and to witness something truly unique, sometimes we also just want a film that is going to offer us the feel-good factor, to provide the cinematic equivalent of a big hug. This year, the warm and fuzzies came courtesy of Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz’s The Peanut Butter Falcon, a film brimming with so much heart that if you watched it on a rainy day, by the time you left the cinema, you would swear that the sun was now shining.

The film centres on Zak (Zack Gottsagen) a young man with Downs Syndrome who, due to no other available alterative by the state, lives in a retirement home but has bigger ambitions of becoming a wrestling star. One night he breaks out of the care home to make his dreams reality and attend the wrestling school of his fabled hero, The Salt Water Redneck, someone he has repeatedly watched on an old VHS tape with his elderly roommate (a nice cameo from Bruce Dern). Whilst on his journey he meets Tyler (Shia LeBeouf), a troubled fisherman who is haunted by his brother’s recent death and who is embroiled in a turf war with local crab fishers. Zak has something he is trying to run towards, and Tyler has something he wants to run away from, and the two unlikely lads strike a friendship as they cross the North Carolina Outer Banks. They traverse the wetlands and encounter obstacles whilst also being pursued by Zak’s compassionate carer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) and the angry white trash fishers who are hunting revenge on Tyler.

It is sometimes a tightrope to walk when you are trying to make a film with the best intentions in the world and often the result can come across corny but with The Peanut Butter Falcon the sentiment and mood is pitched just right. This is largely down to the two main leads onscreen chemistry and a sense that their friendship extended beyond the camera lens. The part of Zak was written for Gottsagen after he impressed the writer/directors Nilson and Schwartz at a camp for actors with disabilities and it is a performance full of sincerity, depth and humour. Meanwhile the often-unpredictable LaBeouf gives one of his best performances to date, stripped back from the trappings of tales of his offscreen antics, he brings a raw, authentic honesty, where his soulful eyes harbour a lifetime of loss and the ache of daring to dream for more.

The landscape gives the film its modern-day Huck Finn moniker and gives us a glimpse of a world away from our own, one that may appear behind contemporary society with its lack of reliance on modern technology but whose simplicity is endearing. It is a backdrop that lives by its own laws, its own pace and utilises the basic instincts and living off the land principles, it is at once a place that could turn unforgiving but also one that offers a romanticised view of a bygone time. The setting and the film itself provide a sense of contemplation, that as a culture, we could all do with going back to basics, to remember what is of value in this world, of how kindness can be king and how we should not judge peoples dreams and limits by the circumstances they are presented within.

8) In Fabric (Peter Strickland)

It is a testament to Peter Strickland that with just a handful of films he has garnered the auteur reputation for distinct and unique work, one that causes fevered anticipation from critics and film lovers alike when he unveils a new release. And his latest feature In Fabric was no different, a truly twisted, subversive piece of cinema that builds upon the director’s love for retro aesthetics and meticulous sound design.

The plot comes across like the stuff of B movie greatness (or badness depending on your taste)- a haunted dress with a taste for murder inhabits and consumes any owner it comes in to contact with. Strickland has fun with the concept of this killer red dress, it slithers around doors, floats eerily upstairs and causes washing machines to turn into crazed, possessed and destroyed appliances.

But whilst playful in places, the dialogue of the witches/sales assistants in the department store is a highlight, the film also peels away at a different type of horror by the end of its runtime. Strickland uses oppressive sounds, layered images and evocative set pieces to create a mood that flits between the banality of everyday situations (demeaning work meetings/awkward dates in cheap restaurants) and the seduction of retail consumerism, our addiction for material things that promise a life away from the one we lead. It is a heady concoction, a myriad of concepts and arresting scenes and whilst it does lose a little traction towards the end, the film has created such an unforgettable mood that it is destined for a place in the year’s best lists.

In Fabric is quite simply unlike anything else you will see this year or any other year, cut entirely from a different cloth, it reaffirms Strickland’s place as one of cinema’s most original and intriguing directors and I personally can’t wait for the next chance to plunge into his weird, macabre world.

7) Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)

Whilst cinema can be relied on to lift our spirits and transport us to different places, it can also break our heart, something that we often venture into knowing the consequences and armed with tissues, we almost sometimes want that beautiful pain. This year Noah Baumbach brought us that bruised bittersweet experience with his devastating divorce drama, Marriage Story, a film that drew upon the director’s own divorce to actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.

The story focuses on artsy couple Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) who live in New York with their son Henry and by societal standards and outward images have an envious, privileged life. But when Nicole takes a job to shoot a pilot in LA, taking her away from the theatre work with Charlie she had traded Hollywood for, she also decides to end the marriage and start a new chapter she desperately craves. Initially Charlie, sticking his head somewhat in the sand, believes the move to LA is temporary but when it becomes clear Nicole wants to relocate to LA, they become embroiled in a cross-coastal custody battle for their son and the amicable split they envisioned gets shattered amidst courtroom clashes.

It is easy to at first empathise with Driver’s Charlie, coming from Baumbach’s side of the divorce experience, he is the one blind -sided when Nicole hires a divorce lawyer, despite their previous agreement to settle this without outside parties. He is the one making constant trips to visit his son and having to up- route his working life to battle the onslaught of legal bills and legal obstacles. But the beauty of Marriage Story is that it does not take a firm side and as the film progresses, we see the extent of how the break down of communication in the relationship has destroyed their love. Nicole is guilty of not expressing her desires enough and going along with her husbands plans while Charlie is guilty of refusing to acknowledge the degree of seriousness his wife’s relocation proposals were and instead shrugging them off with little afterthought. The resentment and corrosion of their world together spills out of the courtroom and culminates in a two hander scene in Charlie’s apartment, the couple argue, spit venomous words at each other that have been festering below the surface for months, maybe years and end up in tears, on knees mourning the irrevocable damage that has come to this sad swansong.

But if this all sounds very depressing, there is light and shade to be found in Baumbach’s film, he manages to find humour in the absurdity of the situation, particularly in Charlie’s interactions with his first appointed lawyer Bert Spitz (a wonderfully on form Alan Alda). Also, in a scene where Charlie is being assessed in his new LA apartment and on his relationship with Henry, the film turns a tense interaction into horrifying humour as a family in joke goes awry.

The two leads commit fully to their characters, bringing depth and nuances that feel natural, authentic and more bittersweet for it. Nicole on the surface, could have been a character audiences would find it hard to emphasis with but Johansson manages to make us feel for her, even when her actions seem harsh, we can see that this is not a decision she has taken lightly nor one she perhaps ever wanted to make. Driver meanwhile reminds us how lucky we are to have him, he traverses the tightrope of ego and empathy perfectly and his rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Being Alive’ may well be enough to win him a golden statue come next years awards season. Their onscreen chemistry and tender moments mean you are fully invested in their story, almost too much so when the final scenes unfold, the tears will begin to flow. But just as the final chapter closes, we have a twinkling of a new era of their relationship, a small gesture of hope that through love and loss, something that once held them together will always thankfully remain.

6) Knives Out (Rian Johnson)

What do you do when the ardent fanboys have accused you of ruining their beloved Star Wars franchise and you have received enough ferment criticism on social media that even the toughest skinned character could crack under? Well if you are Rian Johnson you dust yourself off and come back with 2019’s most entertaining night out at the cinema, a barnstorming, firecracker whodunnit, packed to the brim with style and substance.

Taking a respectful debt from Agatha Christie, Knives Out revolves around the aftermath of the death of renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who meets his demise just after his 85th birthday. But what may appear to be a simple case of suicide on the surface, soon unravels to throw suspicion on each member of Thrombrey’s over privileged and freeloading family, who all emerge with motives to drive them to murder. Amongst the parasite, serpentine clan, only Harlan’s nurse and carer Marta (Ana de Armas) seems to truly mourn his death and appears to be the solitary virtuous, moral compass of the film.

Such is her aversion to deceit that her body has a physical reaction and she vomits when she is lying, something that provides a fantastic narrative device as the plot thickens. Into the mix, and to weed through the duplicitous characters and concealed clues comes Daniel Craig’s southern sleuth Benoit Blanc, an old-fashioned cigar smoking gentleman detective who has a penchant for coin tossing, dramatic entrances and intentional pauses. He is a grandiose and theatrical creation that could have been hammy in other, lesser skilled hands but such is the joyous aplomb that Craig plays him with, that we go along with every over pronounced drawl that comes from his lips. It is a delight to see Craig revel in a character that could not be more far removed from the shackles of Bond and builds upon the comedic playfulness that we witnessed in Logan Lucky.

But it is not just Craig that knocks it out of the park in Johnson’s meticulous murder mystery, the film is almost an embarrassment of riches with every part of the puzzle coming together. The cast is a whodunit who’s who of established and future stars, from Don Johnson’s philandering pompous son in law Richard, to Michael Shannon’s whiny out of favour son Walt to Jaeden Martell’s twitter troll grandson Jacob. Each play their parts with a devilish edge of affluent entitlement but special mention must go to Jamie Lee Curtis as Thrombey’s eldest daughter Linda who commands the screen with her brazen confidence but who also unveils a hidden suspicion that her father has something else predesigned for them. And another actor who is taking great pleasure from being away from a huge studio franchise is Chris Evans who has an absolute ball playing the self-entitled, stellar jumper wearer and fantastically monikered grandson Ransom.

The set design is a Cluedo lover’s dream, with most of the action taking place in Thrombey’s gothic mansion, complete with hidden entry points, creaky stairs and grand interiors. It would be a fitting location for any Christie novel and becomes just as much of a character as the family are. Meanwhile Johnson’s direction allows us the vantage point at times but pulls the rug from under us at others, just as we think we have solved the mystery, it flips what we knew on its head to race to a genuinely thrilling climax. As a cinema goer it is a real treat to be able to watch a film where you can openly see the fun a director and cast are having and be part of that, like one of the gang and this is how Knives Out feels. It is a delicious, heady concoction that surprises, entertains and amuses and with Johnson back on stellar territory Star Wars alleged loss is very much cinema’s gain.

5) Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller)

It’s always a joy when an actor gets to flex parts of their dramatic chops that we, as the audience, may not have seen yet and we get to revel in another side of their skills. This year it was never truer than with Melissa McCarthy’s stellar turn as Lee Israel in Marielle Heller’s biographical film Can You Ever Forgive Me? The film picks up Israel’s story in the 1990s right at her lowest ebb, a previous bestselling celebrity biographer in the 70s and 80s, she is now struggling to make her rent and unable to get any new work published. Living in a state of squalor and with her sick cat Jersey requiring medical attention, Lee is desperate for cash and, through a set of surprising circumstances, she carves a new career as a forger of celebrity letters. While she begins to enjoy the lucrative rewards of her profitable venture, it becomes just as much for Lee about the praise she receives for her writing, her flair for impersonating the likes of witty literary greats such as Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward.

McCarthy has been churning out comedy performances since her breakout role in 2011’s Bridesmaids and while some have been great (2015’s Spy), many have felt repetitive and lazy, relying too heavily on her initial schtick and not bringing anything new to the table. But with Can You Ever Forgive Me, McCarthy finds the perfect vehicle to convey some of her humour but also to add depth and layers that have not had chance to shine previously.

Lee Israel is presented as a difficult character, someone whose arrogance and refusal to adapt and play the literary game has cost her greatly but McCarthy manages to bring so much humanity to the part. Even at times when Lee’s morale compass wavers, we still root for this woman, and whilst her actions can elicit frustration ultimately, we want her to find a better resolution as McCarthy creates a beautiful portrayal of a flawed creative character. She is aided and abetted by a fantastically on form performance by Richard E Grant as her partner in crime, Jack Hock, a dandy drug dealer with a taste for the finer things in life, but without the money to fund it. E Grant dials up the sly charm to 11 and delivers a stellar performance and the two lead actors form a delightful odd couple, clinging on to one another like two stalwarts in a world that no longer values their currency.

The wintery hues of 90s New York tinge the air with a sense of melancholy and sadness, where coming to terms with a life you had not planned become a harsh reality against an unforgiving city and evolving time. The sense of out with the old and in with the new has never been more prevalent as Lee’s penchant for old timers like Fanny Brice are no longer interesting in a world of Tom Clancy novels. But whilst the film has moments of failure, of darkness and of quiet devastation, time spent in the company of two ramshackle rogues is utterly charming and seeing two actors working in such brilliant unison is an absolute delight making this one of the years most unexpected gems.

4) Monos (Alejandro Landes)

Despite being set on earth, this year’s most otherworldly experience came from Alejandro Landes’ breathtakingly brutal Monos, a film which presents us with a society, filled with chaos and rituals, that is so far removed from our own existence it is hard to believe we cohabit on the same planet. Set in Latin America, the film focuses on a gang of young soldiers who are initially living on a remote mountaintop and who, save for the occasional visit from their leader and instructions via a radio, spend their time completing physical exercises and indulging in teenage hedonistic behaviour. Their unit are tasked with guarding an American hostage and to look after a cow which has been provided to give them milk. But the combination of reckless, self-possessed youth and semi-automatic weapons starts a chain of events which loosens their bond and when an ambush hits their isolated location they are forced into the jungle where the squadron disintegrates with dangerous consequences.

It is hard to quantify where Monos would sit within the genre pool, it is a film that peels at many layers (survivalist story, thriller, social commentary) and has some palpable comparisons (Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now) yet it is strikingly its own beast. To witness it, is to encounter a cinematic fever dream, where narrative ambiguity keeps the viewer in a heightened tense state and violent impulses threaten to erupt at every turn. It is a disorientating and consuming dive into the unknown where only a handful of references (some of the gang have pop culture names such as Rambo and Smurf) remind you that this is our shared world but not our same environment.

The films cinematographer Jasper Wolf captures the duality of the soldiers and of the land, where the beauty of nature meets the oppression of landscape. Stunning shots of clouds that engulf the hilltops of the teenager’s original outpost give the film an ethereal splendour, where the recruits are offered moments to bask in their semi freedom in a dreamlike wonder. In contrast, when they are thrust into the jungle, the stifling, humid conditions intensify the fractures of the group, dwindling supplies and fly infested digs eat away at their emotional stability as they struggle to recall who or what they are fighting. The film is also bolstered by an incredible, haunting score by Mica Levi which periodically pierces the narrative with unsettling soundscapes and restrained voids, at times the music builds, rolling from out of the clouds like a thunderous, impending feeling of dread. At other times, Levi knows that the smallest of sounds can still evoke discomfort and displacement, where a simple whistle upon the wind can echo and burrow into our subconscious.

Monos is an unforgettable experience, one that when the lights go up, it is hard to move from your seat as you try to remember your own surroundings and regain your semblance of normality. But as you process this, you are left with the frightening realisation that, whilst you return to your life, for some countries and for some children this is their own normality, that they do not know another world that exists beyond violence and war. It is easy for us to awake from the fever dream but this landscape of beauty and of terror is a waking nightmare for those that are born into something that they will never know any different.

3) The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)

Storming out of the blocks in January came Yorgos Lanthimos’ riotous period comedy/drama The Favourite which combined the director’s dark humour and eccentricities together with captivating performances from its three female leads. In early 18th century England a fragile and erratic Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) reigns on the throne, whilst her closest friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs the country and attends to Anne’s health and whims. When Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives on the scene and begins to court favour with Anne herself, the two women become locked in a vicious power battle for the Queens affections. This set up allows Lanthimos to indulge in scenes of deliciously wicked behaviour and permeate the frame with wide angled cinematography which highlights the severe acts and attitudes of the characters. The result is a dizzying concoction of a warped history lesson with flashes of Blackadder, showing the physical harshness of this period and the ugliness of power behind the powdered wigs.

The film boasts an exceptional trifecta of performances from its leads with Stone using her big-eyed virtuousness to reveal something more calculating whilst Weisz adds layers to her Lady Sarah, using cunning moves but also revealing a genuine love for Anne. But the film in the end belongs to Olivia Colman who balances the tightrope of archaic comedic outbursts and sympathetic pathos. Her Queen Anne is in a state of emotional arrested development, a lifetime of stifled manipulation leaving her infantised and prone to fitful cries of anxiety and an inability to be happy. One scene where she watches Lady Sarah engaging in a dance with Baron Masham is a masterclass in acting, her smile slowing beginning to fade and a lifetime of sadness is etched across her face.

With The Favourite, Colman proved her leading lady status and became the nations acting royalty and Lanthimos proved again that he is a director whose every move leads to fascinating results and undisputedly exciting cinema.

Joint 1st) High Life (Claire Denis)

You know when you see a film at the cinema and you become completely immersed in that world, mesmerised by every scene and shot and leave feeling completely disorientated? That is the greatest feeling and this year one of the greatest creators was Claire Denis’ with her hypnotic and demanding High Life. Denis’ debut English language film paints giant brush strokes of life’s biggest themes, the notion of what it is to be human and whether we carry on when we are hurtling towards an inevitable end.

The film begins with Monty (Robert Pattinson) and an infant named Willow alone on a ship floating through space, devoid of any other signs of life and crew. As Monty goes through the motions of maintaining their existence, there is a cloak of impending death seeping through the lone corridors and dwindling functions of their spacecraft. This makes it even more unsettling to see a small child, in the beginning of its life inhabiting a world which appears to have no future.

As the film flashes back to show us how Monty and Willow became the only surviving members of the crew, we learn that this was a doomed exercise, destined to fail from the start. A mission to harvest energy from a black hole to bring back to earth, the journey itself would outlast the crew’s lifespan and therefore they were expected to procreate. At the hands of Juliette Binoche’s enigmatic but devious doctor Dibs the crew, made up of former death row inmates, are forced to breed another generation that would continue and complete the assignment. But fevered tensions and opposing characters creates a microcosm of sexual conflict and violence that tears the crew members apart. The realisation that they have escaped one life sentence for another encourages savagery and hostility in an environment that offers oppressive, sterile rooms and the only other option is the void of space.

Whilst the cast of societal misfits all play their part well and Binoche has an arresting sensual scene involving the ships ‘fuck box’, it is Pattison’s film and Pattinson’s face that you will remember. Proving again why he is one of cinema’s most interesting contemporary performers, the actor stalks the passages and rooms of the ship in an almost wordless performance. His restraint compared to his fellow shipmates/captives allows the camera to linger on his face and to provide the humanistic, tenderness in scenes with his daughter.

Denis’ film is full of startling, striking imagery, where a single glove can perform a zero-gravity sad ballet or bodies floating in outer space fall in a dreamlike state, like stars slowly plummeting into a black abyss. There is such a stark, astonishing visceral quality to scenes that once seen, you are unable to wipe away. The film’s aesthetic recalls 1970s sci-fi, the ship which carries the crew looks like a cube shaped trash compacter and shades of Silent Running pepper the garden scenes.

It is a bold and impressive move to reject the usual conformity of shiny and futuristic set design and echoes the films sensibilities that modern technology will not be our saviour. Things on earth do not fare any better, with flashbacks showing a landscape thick with sepia toned malaise, devoid of colour and kindness. It all enhances an aura bereft of hope, the film makes it clear that there will be no resolution either in space or on earth, that it has all gone to the dogs (quite literally in one unsettling scene).

High Life is challenging cinema at its finest- uncompromising, visionary, disturbing and astounding in equal measure. It is a film that gets under your skin, clings to your fibres and refuses to let go, gnawing at your thoughts for days and weeks and perhaps till the end of our own mortal lifespan.

Joint 1st) Little Women (Greta Gerwig)

I came to Little Women with fresh eyes, having never read Louise May Alcott’s book or having seen any of the previous adaptations, my only knowledge of it came courtesy of Joey in an episode of Friends. But even to the uninitiated, it is evident that Greta Gerwig’s revision is made with the upmost respect, love and adoration for Alcott’s apparent timeless text. It is a film so rich and warm that it is impossible not to get invested and intertwined in the lives of the March sisters and to relate to one (or perhaps each of them) in some way.

The film begins with Jo March (Saoirse Ronan reuniting with her Ladybird director) who is living in New York and trying to get her stories published, concealing the fact that she is the writer herself. As she struggles to juggle her artistic integrity against providing an income, we see the contrast in her sister Amy’s life. Amy (Florence Pugh) is accompanying their Aunt March (a formidable Meryl Streep) around Europe with the hopes of refining her painting but with the expected reality of marrying well in society, something that she is repeatedly reminded of by Aunt March in order to ‘save’ the family. Whilst the two sisters may appear different, they are both trapped within the confines of the time, where having aspirations of independence and making a living are obstructed by society’s positioning of women.

The film then takes us back to the March sisters’ childhoods and we are introduced to Meg who likes to act (Emma Watson) and Beth who adores playing piano (Eliza Scanlen), each sister showing an artistic streak which is lovingly encouraged by their kind hearted and generous Marmie (a luminous Laura Dern) despite the patriarchal climate and economical hardship they face in a post-Civil War America. The interplay between the four sisters is effortless and effervescent, they have a natural chemistry which radiates on the screen, whether this is huddled together in embrace as Marmie reads them a letter from their father who is away with the war or when they are bickering over sisterly quarrels.

Thrown into their lives is the literal (albeit wealthy) boy next door Laurie (played with foppish charm by the internet’s boyfriend Timothee Chalamet). Laurie becomes integral in the March sister’s teenage years and he falls in love with Jo, who only sees him as a partner in crime, rather than a partner whilst Amy secretly pines for him on the side-lines. As the narrative cuts between the present struggles of the March sisters, these scenes become even more precious and bittersweet, before the tragic fate of Beth begins to surface and before the feelings of playing second best to Jo reach a turning point for Amy.

Each member of the cast excels in their respective roles, but with more narrative space it naturally falls that Ronan and Pugh stand a little further out. Ronan as the free spirited and headstrong Jo shines with a restless energy that is both empowering and infectious, her resistance to simply become a wife is a rally cry for any female who has faced a conformity box within their lives. Dressed like a poet and always slightly bedraggled, she is a transcendent heroine both classically and contemporary. Pugh on the other hand has the harder task for the audience to like her as Amy, her dismay at being left behind whilst her sisters experience social activities without her leads to some hot-headed actions that will make her unpopular. But Pugh gives her the right amount of childlike naivety which then turns into steely poise, her admission that she lives in her sister’s shadow, does not excuse but does explain the motives behind her outbursts of bratty behaviour. When she is finally on the cusp of what she has always wanted, her first thought still is that of runner up prize to Jo.

Despite its period setting, Little Women feels modern and relevant, just because something has the detachment of time doesn’t mean that the struggles, hopes and dreams are so different from ours. And whilst we have come a long way in the prospects afforded to women these days, there is still a feeling that trying to produce a film that centres on women, with relatively ordinary loves and relatable narratives remains a hard slog in Hollywood. But thankfully Gerwig tried and succeeded, for she has created a beautiful film that is little in name but is big on heart and an absolute joy from start to finish. Also, unlike its name might suggest this is not just a film for women, it will appeal to all as it shows us the best of humanity, of how every life has value despite the smallness of it and how the small moments in life build to those that matter the most.

 

 

Films of the year- 2018

films 2018

Due to a current hectic life schedule and my writing for Film Inquiry, my blog has now become severely neglected and redundant however for my few readers who have asked (thank you and I love you), I will continue to do my films of the year.

As always there are some that I may have missed that could have made the cut (such as awards favourite Roma) but again hectic times in my household mean that, despite a healthy lot of cinema viewings, I haven’t always managed to see everything I wanted.

So here is my round up of what has grabbed my cinematic sensibilities this year

10) I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie)

It shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise that the story of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding would make for an intriguing film but still I,Tonya was a bombshell blast, a spiky mockumentary biopic with knockout performances. Margot Robbie gives a gutsy uninhibited performance as Tonya Harding, the scrappy skater who worked her way from the wrong side of the redneck tracks to outperform her privileged competitors. But she was always considered the outsider, her homemade costumes and unorthodox style at odds with the stuffy snobbery of the elite skating world. So, when she became embroiled in a violent attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, the establishment, and more notably, the press found their villain and Harding’s career became a car crash, played out on the world’s stage.

Craig Gillespie’s film uses the chaotic events surrounding Tonya’s life and career to present wildly varying sides to the narrative from the key players involved and which creates a wildly entertaining film, as jagged and barbed as the ice and blades around it. Whist the stories may conflict and whilst the audience’s preconceptions of Harding may differ, the film makes it clear, that despite everything else she was a fighter, an underdog who was hit by life (and literally by most of her family). I Tonya dazzles with its intense skating sequences and eccentric characters, particularly Harding’s force of nature mother LaVona (played in towering fashion by Alison Janney) so when the fallout of the Kerrigan incident hits, it hits hard. Beyond the outrageously entertaining antics, we see the price that Harding paid for her role as skating’s bad-girl. In one scene Robbie sits waiting to perform on the ice rink, her face made up in cartoonish fashion, she alternates between grinning and grimacing as she realises her fate as the crowd’s court jester. Whatever your take on Harding before the film, by the end Robbie’s fearless performance will make you rethink it.

9) Hereditary (Ari Aster)

Whilst the UK was experiencing some of its hottest weather in years, Hereditary came along to chill us to the bone and take us to some very dark places. Toni Collette, who already has had a rough time cinematically in a variety of put upon roles, had her most brutal part to date as Annie, a woman trying to keep her family together after the death of her suspiciously secretive mother. To say she goes through the ringer is an understatement in a film so intrinsically unsettling, it clings to every fibre of your being, enveloping you in a wrath of dread and doesn’t let go, even after the credits have rolled. Owing a debt to Rosemary’s Baby is never a bad thing and Hereditary evokes the paranoia of the 60s classic with its suffocating, all-consuming nightmare, where the scares come from knowing everyone is out to get you and there is no escape, no matter what you do.

A uniformly excellent cast commit to their parts so well, particularly Collette whose face belies the gauntlet of terror she is faced with and Alex Wolff as her son Peter whose teenage façade quickly crumbles in the wake of impending and sustained panic, reducing him to a simpering child. It also features one of the year’s most shocking scenes, one that escalates quickly to a moment that you can’t quite believe just happened. With Hereditary horror continues its ascent to be regarded again as a genre with merit, way past just cheap frills and easy frights, to grip hold of an audience with a disturbing presence. Long may its comeback continue I say, though I am not sure my nerves agree.

8) Mission Impossible- Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)

I have said it before and I will say it again, no one gives you more bang for your buck than Tom Cruise, he is your bone fide movie star and the Buster Keaton of blockbusters. But even he outdid himself with the latest instalment of the Mission Impossible franchise, which was this year’s stellar standout actioner. It deserved to be seen on the biggest screen possible to witness the multitude of set pieces and stunts that Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie had the balls to think of and then actually execute. From a car chase through the streets of Paris, to rooftop pursuits and culminating in a helicopter chase that has a literal heart in the mouth moment, you can feel every crunch and crack as Cruise pushes the limits of what is possible in terms of practical stunts.

But this is not all just flash and showiness, there is an intelligent script with narrative twists and turns and the interplay between the actors shows the emotional depth that these characters have been drawn into as each Mission progresses. Mission Impossible Fallout succeeds in both feeling slightly retro with its cinematic sensibilities but also thoroughly modern with its approach, where grown up clever action films are perilously in short supply, it is a welcome franchise that has produced one of its best films so far down the line. The only impossible part may be topping Fallout and if they do, I am not sure the audience’s anxiety levels can take it.

7) You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)

Lynne Ramsay’s long-awaited return to cinema after her gut punching adaptation of We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011) is an equally dark and nightmarish tale, with echoes of Taxi Driver but also with a murky beat of its own. Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a war veteran who is sleepwalking through a life of pain and violence and who is now a gun for hire, retrieving missing children for those that will pay for his brutal services. When he is hired to find the daughter of a senator, it draws Joe into a sinister world which will have repercussions to his own sparse but personal life.

Make no mistake that this is feel-bad cinema at its best, with Ramsay creating a series of disturbing and cruel scenes that build upon a world filled with dread and despair. The narrative may sound like something for a Liam Neeson actioner, but this is not a redemptive revenge tale where everything will be made right in the end. Phoenix’s Joe is a man that feels like he is already dead and is just living in his own tortured purgatory, he is a physically and emotionally bruised shadow that walks the earth. The only warmth in his life is with his mother, a scene where they sing to each other whilst polishing cutlery is tender and becomes even more devastating after the reverberations of Joe’s course of action. The film is set to a pulsating score by Jonny Greenwood that clings to the sides of the frame, heightening the jet- black menace that is found around every corner. You Were Never Really Here is not an easy watch but it is a fascinating piece of work by Ramsay, a strangely hypnotic experience where you may want to turn away but can’t bring yourself to.

6) Widows (Steve McQueen)

Following his Oscar winning epic 12 Years a Slave (2013) with a film based on an 80s Lynda La Plante miniseries seemed like a very odd choice for director Steve McQueen. But it’s a left turn idea that paid rich rewards, creating a barnstorming crime thriller with strong performances across the board. Whilst the idea of a heist job being pulled off by an all- female crew must have been progressive in the 1980s, there is still a sense that we are watching something new, fresh and crucially exciting. Lead by a commanding Viola Davis, each member of the team is allowed time to flesh out their interesting characters and motives for taking part in a job that they are not ready for. With a screenplay by Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn, the interplay between the women, at first cagey and cautious and then finding some form of bond in their enforced situation, means the audience care and invest in their lives.

Whilst the female characters rightly dominate the screen, there is strong support from the all the rest of the cast, Colin Farrell encompasses both charm and callousness in equal spades as a morally corrupt politician. Daniel Kaluuya meanwhile is terrifying as the brother and henchman to Brian Tyree Henry’s criminal turned politician, his pursuit of Davis and co is nail biting stuff and every time he is on screen, there is an air of unpredictably akin to Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. McQueen relocates the action from London to Chicago, which allows for some social commentary to flow into the narrative, the divides of the haves and the have nots clear to see on the streets of the city, where the wealthy continue to line their pockets while others struggle to keep afloat. The director also shows he is as equally adept at dealing with action sequences as well as dramatic arches with an opening scene that skilfully combines both, throwing us headlong into this world without a moments pause. Despite a long running time, the film flies along without a single frame wasted, each one building and escalating the stakes higher to a tense finale which still combines depth and emotion amongst its chaos. Where McQueen goes next from here may be anyone’s guess but after nailing another genre, it will be a tense and anticipated wait.

5) Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)

Storming out of the blocks to herald the start of a new year came Martin McDonagh’s blistering, bruising and blackly funny Three Billboards. We already knew that Frances McDormand was a fearless actress but even she outdid herself with her towering performance as … a mother taking the law into her own hands after her daughter’s murder continues to go unsolved. It is a sucker punch of a role, a melting pot of rage and grief, raw and rousing and it felt like a call to arms right at the height of the Me Too movement, proving that women can command the screen with the fire and fury that is usually only reserved for men.

McDormand dominates the screen yet also allows her co-stars their moment to shine, particularly Sam Rockwell, who confirms what many of us have known for a long time, that he is Hollywood’s unsung MVP. Three Billboards wasn’t for everyone though, some were uneasy with the brash brushstrokes it created, and its award sweeping run up to the Oscars was dashed on the big night by Del Toro. But for those who got McDonagh’s groove, there was much to admire, his ability to turn the narrative from fist pumping vigilante antics to the silent ache of a mourning mother is a masterclass in modern storytelling.

4) A Quiet Place (John Kransinski)

In a world where information about a film is accessible to our searching fingertips and when the hype machine builds up a release, months before it lands on the screen, one of cinema’s greatest remaining pleasures is the sleeper hit. A film that seemingly comes from nowhere without any burden of sequel, reboot or remake and that captures the imagination of an audience ready for something that feels fresh and new. This year that accolade went to John Krasinski’s barnstorming thriller A Quiet Place which gave its viewers a silent, nail biting, nerve shredding experience and also took cinema screens back to their intended state- noiseless and free of phone screens as all were engrossed in it’s almost wordless narrative. In a post-apocalyptic world, survivors must remain silent  to avoid attracting the attention of giant predators that, whilst blind, have advanced hearing and will attack at the slightest sound. We follow a family, Lee (Kransinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and their two children who live in a countryside house, adapted and kitted out to withstand a world that must be quiet at all times. They have managed to create a survivalist form of living, but they will soon be confronted with a new challenge as Evelyn is about to have a baby where she must remain silent during childbirth and where they must find a way to keep their new-born hushed.

A Quiet Place delivers an almost unbearably tense cinematic ride, with Kransinski showing he can direct taut set pieces that would make Spielberg proud and reduce cinemagoers to anxiety ridden messes by the end of its running time. But amidst the silent chills, the film also raises questions about our humanity and what life we would have to live if we were denied a fundamental part of our existence, our ability to express emotions through sound. And at its very core, it is a film of hope and love, with one particular scene showing the heart-breaking paternal instinct that a parent will provide no matter what.

3) Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)

Debra Granik’s second and most prominent feature Winter’s Bone (2010) dealt with characters leaving on the fringes of society, cut off from the wider world and who create their own microcosm of rules and ways of life. Her new film Leave No Trace shares its DNA with its central narrative about an army veteran Will (Ben Foster) suffering from PTSD who lives in the vast forests of a national park in Portland Oregon with his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). However, their self-contained world is shattered by a small mistake and they are thrown into the guidance of social services and a reintroduction to society that Will is unable to adjust to but where Tom begins to discover the pieces of life that she wants.

Leave No Trace is a film of beautifully judged and subtle moments, there is no overdramatic teenage acts from Tom as she begins to pull away from the world that her father had created for them. Instead it’s a culmination of tender moments that embed like whispers on the wind, making you want Tom to have those that she cannot and quietly devastated when she is pulled away from another chance of home. But the film doesn’t paint Will as the monster, his reasons for his way of life are valid and his love for his daughter unwavering, both Foster and McKenzie portray their parts magnificently so you are on both sides of the coin, able to see each other’s actions and motives. So much so that the final scene between father and daughter is all the more heart-breaking, the pull for both of them to another way of life will the catalyst to break their unified bond. Ironically for a film titled Leave No Trace, it is a film that will linger in your thoughts long after, its trail of human emotion leaving a footprint in your memory.

2) Ladybird (Greta Gerwig)

There have been many coming of age films but none that have struck a chord with me as much as Greta Gerwig’s fabulously observed Ladybird. Set in Sacramento in 2002, Saoirse Ronan plays Christine but who insists to be called by her given name Ladybird (when questioned by a teacher she declares ‘It was given to me, by me’). She clashes with her mother Marion (a stellar Laurie Metcalf), particularly on her desire to go to college in New York to experience culture, her lofty ambitions are in opposition to the family’s ability to pay the tuition fees. Ronan is superb as the self-assured teen, even in her brattier moments of behaviour, she still manages to charm with her unwavering conviction that usually eludes many awkward adolescents.

Indie darling Gerwig directs with confidence and a keen eye for all the small details that makes the film soar with heart and spirit, period touches feel authentic and every character has the chance to shine. Whilst the narrative deals with the familiar coming of age milestones- prom night, losing virginity, fallouts with best friends, it also puts as much emphasis on the mother-daughter relationship and this is where its depth and painful familiarity emerges. In one scene, as they shop for prom dresses, Ladybird asks her mother if she likes her, her mother is quick to reply with ‘of course I love you’. But Ladybird presses the matter and replies ‘But do you like me?’ The air hangs with uncertainty and the realisation that, whilst the love between parent and child is undeniable, our attitude as teenagers often puts a strain on our parent’s ability to connect and actually like us at certain times. It is a bitter pill to swallow and holds a mirror up to how we acted in our teens, I myself squirmed recalling past encounters with my parents when I was loaded with a youthful know it all arrogance and I felt the strong urge to hug my mum after watching the film. Gerwig has created a modern classic in the underrepresented female adolescence pantheon, one that feels deeply personal but also will feel entirely relatable for many. It is a funny but bittersweet memory to a time filled with joy and anticipation of what life holds ahead but also to the reality that is waiting to clip our wings before we have even taken flight.

1) American Animals (Bart Layton)

Bart Layton followed up his blistering documentary The Imposter (2012) with another film based on true events but whose lines became significantly blurred between fact and fiction. American Animals tells the true crime story of four college students in Kentucky, who in 2003, boldly and foolishly attempted one of the most audacious art heists in US history. Layton combines both factual reconstruction and documentary style with the action cutting to interviews with the real people involved, which adds depth and differing versions to the unfolding drama. The effect is a fascinating portrait of a bunch of kids who became bewitched by an idea, without thinking of the consequences and it is also a riveting heist movie whose players are themselves influenced by iconic crime films. In one scene the gang wade through a ton of DVDs including Rififi and Reservoir Dogs, seduced by their air of coolness but oblivious to how these tales actually end, a precursor to how ill-conceived their plan actually is.

The actors playing the real-life students all bring a different energy and conflicting stances to the heist, Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters particularly excel as the two main protagonists Spencer Rheinhard and Warren Lipka. Keoghan waves the line between a cautious unease and an entranced abandonment, all etched on his intriguing face, his need for something to bring greater richness to his art leading him away from his intended, resolute path. Peters meanwhile gets the showier role as the erratic and unpredictable Lipka, his misplaced confidence and maddening behaviour is somehow transfixing in Peters hands, the actor’s hypnotic swagger recalling a young Malcolm McDowell. Layton’s direction flits between playful homages (the boys imagine their intended heist to resemble a cheeky Oceans 11 slick operation) and authentic realisation, with the actual plan turning into a confused, frantic mess, the arrogance of youth held up directly on scene. But for all its slicks and tricks, American Animals never feels gimmicky or exploitative, instead it is a fascinating portrait, brilliantly constructed look at how a hair brained scheme promises, but ultimately fails to lead your life to a better outcome.

 

 

 

Five of the best….looks in cinema

They say the eyes are the window to the soul and that a face can launch a thousand ships but in cinema it can do this and much much more. A look can convey something better than pages of dialogue ever could, it can tell us things about a character, some we may want to know and some we wish we didn’t know and all with a flicker of the eye or the glimmer of a smile. At the dawn of cinema, the actor’s face was their greatest tool and then the advent of sound came in and changed the landscape of film forever. Acting became just as much about the conviction of the dialogue as well as the conviction of expression and many of Hollywood’s biggest stars fell to the wayside as they failed to make the transition into the sound age, they became relics of a bygone era.

Script writing gave us another dimension on cinema and has been responsible for many memorable lines that live on in people’s hearts but it’s sometimes good to remember where it all began, with the actor’s face. Though the pen may be mightier than the sword, looks can kill and here are five times in cinema where for me, I have been stopped in my tracks, mesmerised by a look and where the words have fallen by the way and the face has given me all I need to know.

Tom Cruise- Magnolia (1999)

There are no two ways about it; Tom Cruise is a movie star, a bone-fide archetypal movie star and one of a dying breed. He dominated the box office for a long period of time and such was his star wattage that all a poster for one of his films needed was a silhouette of his head with his name emblazoned above it.  He is also an actor that still consistently gives the most bang for the movie payer’s buck, routinely hurling himself from explosions or hanging onto the sides of structures and planes, doing his own death defying stunts. However one thing that is not often attributed to Cruise is his actual acting muscles, that he is an undeniable star but rarely is there praise heaped upon his dramatic delivery, perhaps because most of the time, he is too busy flying off the side of buildings. But when he does pick a project that offers less action and more acting, Cruise reveals hidden depths and never more so than in Paul Thomas Anderson’s narrative sprawling opus Magnolia.

When the film was released much of the attention on Cruise’s performance came from his character’s outlandish mantras, he plays Frank Mackey who is a motivational speaker.  But the real moment comes when Frank talks to an interviewer post seminar, pumped from his on stage high,Frank is all charm and chat at first, riffing on the persona that he has created. However when she begins to probe Frank about his family history, he at first dodges the questions, his slickly trained character dancing like an animal evading capture but then as she hits his weak spot and confronts the lie that he has been portraying, Frank’s whole facade comes crushing down.

The way Cruise’s face immediately changes, the brutal snap that the image he has depicted is now being called into question is a masterful moment, one that is summed up wholly in his expression, the cocky smile is literally wiped from his face. Cruise’s juxtaposition is one of Magnolia’s greatest scenes, which says a lot for a film brimming with spectacle and revelations and it is all down to Cruise’s emotive nuances. The scene encapsulates the inner turmoil that Frank refuses to acknowledge and surrender to and the narrative plays with the connotations of Cruise himself as a ‘star’ and the baggage that comes with his persona. It is hard to think of someone who could have played the role better and it suggests that perhaps Cruise should continue to show us a different kind of money shot.

Al Pacino- The Godfather (1972)

I must confess that for me The Godfather films are not quite my bag, as a cinephile I can appreciate their craftsmanship and the legacy that they have had on cinema but I do not revere them like many film fans do. And yet there is one moment that stands out for me when I think of The Godfather and it is not the iconic horse’s head moment or the method mumblings of Brando. It is the scene where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) kills Sollozzo in the restaurant and in particular the moment just before, when he is deciding what to do.

This part of the scene is the definitive narrative point for Michael’s character, it tells us what kind of man he was before and the type of man he is going to become. It tells us that everything that came before will be erased by this act and from then on there will no going back, this fork in the road will define the path he will take. And all of this is simply conveyed within Pacino’s eyes. As a train is heard hurtling over it’s tracks in the background, Michael’s eyes dart back and forth, weighing up the consequences of the action he is about to commit, you can feel his inner turmoil as he wrestles with his conscience. It is one of the purest moments of acting from Pacino that he is able to say so much with the mere expression of his face.

I didn’t grow up watching The Godfather films and came to them later in life so my experience of Pacino as an actor was during his shouty phase and the almost caricature version of himself that he has become in his latter day films. Witnessing this scene in The Godfather reveals why Pacino went on to be heralded as one of the greatest actors in the history of cinema and a timely reminder that there was pathos and subtlety to his craft that  sadly went awry later down the line.

Jean Seberg- A bout de Souffle (1960)

Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless is the movie equivalent of Rock n Roll; it’s vibrant, playful and doesn’t need to say a lot but instead its more how it makes you feel. It burst onto the screen in 1960 and played with the conventions of cinema, creating jump cuts, using natural lighting and unnatural sound, things that were not the norm and that were a world away from the ridged studio backdrop. Godard’s fast and loose style extended to his characters, they were drifters, rule breakers, society’s riff raff.

Jean -Paul Belmondo plays Michel, a petty thief who at once encapsulates the style of Bogart but in the same instance despises it, he is our anti-hero who is on the run after killing a cop and who hooks up with old flame Patricia (Jean Seberg) in Paris. The achingly cool pair spend the rest of the film wandering the Champs Elysees or sharing intimate moments in Patricia’s small apartment before she ultimately betrays him to the police. Michel is shot and he staggers the streets of Paris taking his last breaths, at first it appears Patricia regrets her decision as she chases after him and in any other Hollywood film this would be the moment where Seberg’s character would profess her love for Michel.

But the chance of some sort of redemption or regret for Patricia’s act is fleeting, she appears to shrug it off with Gallic nonchalance. As she stares down at Michel in his dying moments, there is no real sense of sadness in her eyes and you could argue that he does not deserve any sympathy, he is after all a womaniser, a thief and a cop killer. But Patricia’s look of indifference simply adds to Godard’s groundbreaking slice of cinema and became one of the most iconic moments of the French New Wave.  As Seberg looks directly at the camera and moves her finger across her lips, this unconventional ending heralded the birth of a new style of film-making that would influence many directors throughout the years and would create an unforgettable look whose ambiguity would linger in the consciousness.

Kathleen Byron- Black Narcissus (1947)

It goes without saying that Powell and Pressburger sure knew how to compose a shot and they sure knew the power that colour could have upon a scene, in particular the use of red. In their 1948 masterpiece The Red Shoes, the vivid colour was used to symbolise passion and the impending danger that would engulf Moira Shearer’s ballerina as she danced her way to death, torn between love and her love of dance.

In Black Narcissus the use of red lipstick signifies the desire and passion that overtakes nun Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) whose faith and sanity becomes tested when local British agent Mr Dean (David Farrar) arrives at the nun’s remote Himalayan convent. Though it is not just the use of red in one particular scene but the lead up to Sister Ruth’s application of the scarlet make up that produces a sinister and memorable look, her face is a dangerous melting pot for all that she is feeling.

As sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) does her nightly rounds, she sees a light in Sister Ruth’s room and enters, where she is met with a woman’s unwavering, self possessed determination. Sister Ruth has decided to leave the order and her face contorts with the greed and lust she is feeling, the time isolated away in the mountains has driven her mad and she takes on the demeanour of a villain. Her face is lit in a luminous glow however as a smile creeps up her entire face, it is a wicked grin of evil; she has become consumed by a sensual desire, one that will lead to terrifying consequences.

The scene is smouldering with tension from Sister Ruth’s face and by the time she applies the crimson colour to her lips, she has conveyed everything to the audience.  This act of defiance is the final element in her journey of no return; she has left the path of faith and is on course to self destruction, one that is not only written, but painted on her face.

Grace Kelly- Rear Window (1954)

Grace Kelly’s arrival in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window (1954) is problematic for a number of reasons yet it also is one of the greatest introductions of a character to the screen. Hitchcock was well known for having a fascination for his blonde leading ladies and none more so than Grace Kelly, she was the epitome of the ice cool woman that he would become mesmerised by and for a time he couldn’t imagine needing another actress.

Her appearance in the film plays like a fantasy, her face lit in the most beautiful way, she envelopes the frame like a stunning mirage, in the way that Hitchcock would see her in his own mind but also for the character L B Jefferies (James Stewart). As Jefferies stirs from sleeping, Lisa (Kelly) appears as if he is still dreaming, she is like a vision, one that is unobtainable for him and for Hitchcock. As the narrative progresses Jefferies finds reasons why his romance with Lisa won’t work, that their lifestyles are too different and he feels that marriage will be like the cast that his broken leg is in, constricting on his nomadic way of life. By Jefferies reluctance to settle down with Lisa, she seems confined to be the fantasy girl and the glamorous way she enters the screen would suggest this.

But this is Hitchcock and whilst his proclivities may manifest onscreen, he was also unafraid to poke fun at himself and to play with the audience. So whilst Lisa may appear to be a fantasy, she also defies expectations and turns out to be more resourceful than Jefferies, and perhaps the audience, imagined. Her entrance into the film, as she looks straight at the camera, may carry connotations with it but it can also simply be seen as a moment of pure cinematic magic, Kelly’ s face epitomises the golden age of Hollywood, the glamour of the bygone era.

It is sometimes hard to study cinema and separate the implications with the act of purely enjoying a film and to enjoy the beauty of one of Hollywood’s most dazzlingly iconic women. It is also hard to not see that Hitchcock has us all pegged, that in a film about voyeurism, from a director that was known for his voyeurism, pointed out the voyeuristic nature in all of us. And that seeing Kelly’s face coming towards the camera would prove alluring to not just him or to Jefferies but to all of us.

Five of the best…times cinema has changed how I feel about a song/band/artist

Film and music are two forms which make for interesting and creative bedfellows, the power of the two combined have created some unforgettable partnerships.  There are so many films that are hard to imagine without their score (too many for me to even mention here, for fear of leaving out a classic) and there are those that are notable for the absence of any music at all. And away from the meticulously crafted scores, there are the songs that are chosen for films that can work wonders in a scene, from heightening the drama and pulling on the heartstrings to puncturing the memory with a slice of pop culture pop that makes you smile and tap your toes. And then there are the times in cinema, where a song comes along,  bursting within the walls of the frame  and takes you by surprise, whether it’s because you didn’t expect its  welcome presence or whether due to its somewhat strange appearance in a scene, it then changes your previous feelings towards that song completely.  And it’s these times when a song being used in cinema has transformed my relationship with it or the artist that I have pondered below to try and rationalise/excuse/accept what has happened.

*Please note that the below songs may have been used in other films but I am referencing them in the films that they stood out for me.

Dancing in the Moonlight- Toploader (used in Four Lions)

Man I hated this song, I mean really hated this song, when it first came out and ever since. Having not heard the original, all I had to go was Toploader’s annoying 90s version and boy did I hate it. It was the type of song that if it came on when I was out and about, I would be cursing in my head and counting down the moments until it was over. It was the type of song that if it came on in the car I would turn it off or mute it until it was over (if it was someone else in charge of the music, I would plead for their mercy to turn it off). It was the type of song that made me detest Jamie Oliver just for using it in his Naked Chef shenanigans. Bugger off Toploader with your big Moka!

Then something happened. When I first watched Chris Morris’ black comedy Four Lions, during a scene, that bloody song came on and at first I cringed at the prospect of having to endure the pop banality of the load of Top. But then I began to find its presence amusing, as a group of Muslim men sung along to the tune in between planning a suicide bombing, the song took on a different quality, the cheery inoffensive pop song cast amidst a plot that flirts with controversy created an absurd juxtaposition.  But then Morris does this so well, finding the humour within the incomprehensible, sometimes the only way to rationalise is with laughter. And then so Toploader’s one time Sainsburys advertising diarrhoea ditty becomes funny and dare I say likeable? Likeable in the sense that now when I hear it, I don’t imagine Jamie and chums whipping up tasty bangers in the kitchen but instead now imagine a bunch of idiots in a van or in a flat in Sheffield, the goofiness of the situation makes me smile.  Something I never thought would happen with a Toploader tune.

God Only Knows- The Beach Boys (performed by Paul Dano in Love and Mercy)

Ok so I already really liked this song and had heard it many many times, Pet Sounds is often played on repeat in our household (as it is one of the greatest albums ever made) but when I watched Love and Mercy, the song was transformed for me. The film is a biographical drama about Brian Wilson, seen through two major periods of his life, the 60s and the 80s and offers two versions of Wilson in the form of Paul Dano and John Cusack. Whilst Cusack is competent as the elder Wilson, it is Dano as the younger version that steals the film and leaves you wanting more of his timeline; in fact a whole film of Dano’s Wilson during the making of Pet Sounds would have been better. It is in one of these scenes that Dano performs a simple early version of God Only Knows, just him at the piano in his house, watched by his domineering father and it is in this moment that I felt I was hearing the song for the first time; such was the power of the scene.  The fragility of Wilson and in turn, the song made God Only Knows feel so much more beautiful, its simplistic nature also turns out to be its greatest strength, it has a purity and honesty that endures and still captivates. Learning about Wilson’s life in the film also gives the song another layer of depth, the cathartic output coinciding with the pain he suffered.  Dano’s performance of God Only Knows gave me goose bumps in the cinema and took a great song and made it into celluloid majesty.

Firework- Katy Perry (used in Rust and Bone)

Katy Perry conjures up many thoughts and connotations – bubblegum pop princess with a tendency for over-shouting in her songs, purveyor of kitsch costumes and enough Technicolor to give you eye strain, sworn enemy of the Swifty or most recently one lucky lady on her hols (if you haven’t already seen the pics, google Orlando Bloom on a paddle board). But, as popular as her music is, we don’t tend to see it as very deep, instead it is pure emphatic pop, though when taken into a different situation, what was previously a cheesy pop song suddenly feels empowering and dare I say moving? That is what happens in Jacques Audiard’s 2012 drama Rust and Bone, in a scene featuring Marion Cotillard, a former killer whale trainer who has lost both her legs after a terrible accident at the whale park where she worked. We first hear Katy Perry’s song Firework as we see Cotillard’s character Stephanie performing a routine with the whales for a crowd of visitors at the park; it is the song that they use for the performance. After Stephanie is injured she loses all sense of her previous identity, confined to a wheelchair and unable to adjust to her new circumstance she is consumed by a sense of defeat. An unlikely friendship with an unemployed man trying to support his son (Matthias Schoenaerts) brings a change in Stephanie and in a scene where Perry’s song again is heard on the radio this time as Stephanie is by herself, she begins to perform the routine that she used to with the whales. Whilst she is in her wheelchair this time, her face begins to change as she performs her arm movements and the song kicks in to accompany this, Stephanie remembers the life she had but this time, it is not in a negative way. She begins to smile, a sense of purpose returns to her, you can see the fight returning to her and as this happens Perry’s song becomes emotive and triumphant. It may seem contrived to say that the lyrics of Firework take on a deeper meaning but in that moment, they really do, the power of cinema shows that in the right context, a song that once felt throwaway can become resonant and leave you now imagining that imagery whenever you hear it. Not bad for a bit of pop fluff eh?

Avril 14th– Aphex Twin (used in Marie Antoinette)

My knowledge of Aphex Twin was pretty narrow (and still is to be honest) and I only associated the British electronic artist with the terrifying imagery from the video Come to Daddy or the equally disturbing Window Licker which I remember being fascinated and horrified by in a film studies lesson. So when I was watching Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and a beautiful piece of piano based music was played during a scene I was really surprised when it turned out to be Aphex Twin. It was also surprising that in a film with a soundtrack of pop and offbeat choice which Coppola uses to juxtapose the time period, (like hearing The Strokes as Kirsten Dunst runs around the palace in a full powdered wig), that the inclusion of Aphex Twin turns out to be one of the pieces of music that fits the most. Its soft, melancholy piano also lends to the shift in Coppola’s film where the hedonistic earlier scenes of Marie Antoinette indulging the riches of her new royal lifestyle give way to a woman who is confined into the life that she has married into, the images of her in full regalia as she walks through fields craving more solitude, that she later briefly finds when she bears a child. Interestingly the song is also used in the closing credits to (previous entry) Four Lions and also provides the most melancholy moment in that film too.

Avril 14th hints at what a film score from Aphex Twin might be like, that the artist who is always one step ahead, who sounds like the future (according to my musical other half) might be able to strip back the electronica and produce a more classical sound akin to film composition, one which could be emotive and soulful. Aphex Twin’s inclusion in Marie Antoinette created a shift in how I saw/heard the artist and perhaps if he could produce more music like this I could see less of the earlier scary images in my head.

Dancing in the Dark- Bruce Springsteen (used in A Place beyond the Pines)

I am going to make a confession here- before hearing this song in Derek Cianfrance’s cross generational crime drama, I didn’t realise how awesome it was. My only thoughts on it were that it was ‘the one where Monica dances in the video’ and perhaps shamefully thought that Bruce Springsteen wasn’t really my sort of music, resigning it the label of ‘Dad Rock’. But when Ryan Gosling appeared in the film, he was at the height of his powers, coming off the back of his cooler than cool performance in Drive (he is the sole reason the rise of the shiny bomber has come back with a vengeance) and anything he did was laced with an air of stylish charm. Dancing in the Dark appears in a brief scene where Gosling’s stunt biker Luke has just completed a successful robbery and is celebrating with his cohort Robin (the equally awesome but for different reasons Ben Mendelsohn) and his dog. Sometimes it takes a different setting to make you see or hear something in a different way and this is what happens with the Bruce Springsteen track for me. It is likely that any scene where Gosling dances with a dog is going to charm you and make you take notice but the song still has to be good and hearing it in A Place beyond the Pines , I realised how good it actually was. I began to seek out a bit of Bruce and realised I had been wrong, or maybe it’s because I am getting older that I am succumbing to old American rock. Whichever it is, I know recognise that Bruce is boss and Dancing in the Dark now reigns supreme on most of the playlists I create. When it comes on at the next wedding reception I am at, I will take to the dance-floor and channel Gosling and his furry friend.

 

Five of the best…Films I love but find hard to go back to

Warning- Contains plot details/spoilers

Perhaps I am an overly sensitive soul but do you ever watch a film for the first time, a film that grabs you emotionally, pierces through your heart and jumps straight into your list of all time favourite films? Then when you come to watch it again, you hesitate, your heart twitches and a melancholy wave creeps upon you as you remember the ache that you felt upon the first viewing? These are not to be confused with the type of films that are too arduous to watch again (yeah Dogtooth I am talking about you) but the type of films that cause a malaise inducing dilemma. Like Joel and Clementine ponder in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,-do they go through their relationship again knowing it will end badly just so they can experience the good moments, I, in turn, ponder the merits of getting a case of the blues to experience the beauty in certain films. Hopefully I am not alone in this quandary, that there is cinematic solidarity for this predicament, and so as a cathartic exercise I have listed five films that I absolutely adore but find it hard to go back to.

Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009)

Any film that explores childhood, from the heady excitement to the realisation that something along the way will have been lost, will always edge on the side of melancholy but Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are absolutely floored me. Stirring up wistful memories of being a child, Jonze’s take on the beloved book by Maurice Sendak is not really a film for kids, despite the presence of giant furry creatures and is instead for those who have lived and lost their adolescence. We follow Max (Max Records), the boy who has behaved badly and is sent to bed without supper, who then escapes to a forest inhabited by the Wild Things, a journey that feels like one of those endless summer school holidays where you play all day, fall out with your best friends, make up again and go home at the end of it all, grubby from climbing trees and playing in the dirt but with a dreamy satisfaction as the sun goes down. Where the Wild Things are beautifully captures this feeling and more, through its spirited direction and its wondrous realisation of the wild creatures, created through a mix of Jim Henson’s workshop and digital face work, and all voiced perfectly particularly James Gandolfini’s lead Wild Thing Carol. And yet for all the joy that there is to behold, the abandonment that comes with childhood, there is also a looming sense of heavy-heartedness, from the autumnal palette of the film to the repeated hints that all things have an end. This is achingly realised in a scene with Max and Carol, as they walk across a desert, Carol exclaims ‘soon the whole island will be dust and I don’t even know what comes after dust’.  Karen O’s glorious soundtrack fits the mood beautifully slipping between the euphoria of the wild rumpus to the reflective nature of Carol’s hideaway and by the time her cover of Daniel Johnston’s Worried Shoes can be heard, I begin to get a serious case of heavy boots. This builds throughout the film to an ending that, despite having not watched the film since its release in 2009, is still etched into my soul, as Max leaves the island and in turn his new friends, Carol runs after his boat and the sight of Gandolfini’s Wild Thing crying at the loss of Max is truly devastating. Where the Wild Things Are is a bewitching capsule of childhood, one that whilst I am watching leads me to mourn for a time that I can never return to and so makes it hard to return to the film, it is only on reflection of a period of time that we can only hope we savoured every (bitter) sweet moment of it.

Inside Llewyn Davies (The Coen Brothers, 2013)

For their 2013 folk masterpiece, The Coen Brothers are firmly on melancholy form asking the wistful extensional question that many (struggling) artists will have to ask themselves at one point; whether they are going to continue, to persevere on or whether they consign their art to the back burner and get a ‘real’ job. For Llewyn Davies (Oscar Isaac) a folk singer working the Greenwich Village circuit in 1960s New York, there seems to be no choice, despite what the world is conspiring to tell him and we watch as he treads a weather worn path in pursuit of his passion, penniless, relying on the kindness of strangers and sometimes literally without a coat on his back. On the initial surface, Llewyn does not fit the mould of the lovable loser that we would usually root for yet it is his unfaltering commitment to non-conformity that provides a bittersweet connection to our anti-hero as the film unfolds. In one scene his sister hints to Llewyn that he should quit the music to which he replies ‘So I should just exist?’ a feeling that will resonate to anyone with a passion that will not diminish. And therein lies the rub and the reason I find this film a soul searching struggle, if life gives you lemons, what if you can’t even get anyone to take your lemonade? How many no’s does it take before you give in? The Coens reflect the narrative handsomely with the contrast of the intimacy of the warm hued folk scene to the harsh realities of a cold New York winter, again an autumnal palette is peppered through the film, which seems to be a precursor to my blues, the passing of seasons are a prelude to introspective behaviour. There is also a recurring motif with a ginger cat, which is at once amusing but becomes quietly devastating, in one particular scene, Llewyn is leaving the car he has been hitching a ride in and to which the cat has been his companion. He stops and looks at the cat, debating whether to take him any further, a moment occurs between them, a look that the cat portrays is remarkable and the emotion that this scene creates is almost too painful to recall. And that’s the Coen’s great trick, like a cinematic slight of hand, they misdirect you with unique brand of humour and amusing cameos and all the while they are building a beautiful brooding picture which creeps up on you and tenderly breaks your heart. The bastards!

Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

We all want to believe that love can conquer all but sometimes it just…doesn’t and those love stories that begin rapturous and burn brightly are all the more devastating when they crumble. Such is the case with Derek Cianfrance’s beautiful bruiser Blue Valentine, a film about the relationship of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), a couple whose marriage begins to disintegrate through resentment and lack of understanding. The film tells their story in a non linear style, in two time frames, so we start at the decline of their marriage and piece together their relationship in flashbacks, the harsh reality of the present cut together with their meet-cute blossoming romance. And this is what makes Blue Valentine so cruelly bittersweet, by interplaying between the shifts in time; we see the destruction and long for the joy. It becomes even more affecting by the naturalistic chemistry that Gosling and Williams have and the intrusive camerawork that positions us close to Dean and Cindy relationship in all its rawness, this is a couple that despite their issues (for which there are several, they are not angelic chick flick characters) I want to succeed because I have been seduced by their initial happiness. This was a film that had me crying many times in many places, an early scene where Dean, working for a delivery removal company, transports an old man to a nursing home and decorates his room for him left me with teary eyes as did the scene where Dean and Cindy are flirting outside a store at night. As Dean plays ‘You always hurt the ones you love’ on the ukulele, Cindy tap dances and the tentative dalliance becomes even more poignant. The final scene shows the end of their relationship interspersed with the day they got married, as Gosling pleads with Williams and reminds her of the vows she took; we cut to the couple at the registry office, happy, in love, a bittersweet juxtaposition of what they have become and by this point I am a blubbing wreck. The film is also majestically scored by Grizzly Bear, a band I adore, which adds another sucker punch to my flailing heart. Most women will say that The Notebook is the Gosling weepie of choice but for me it is, and should, be Blue Valentine, a film that painfully makes us realise no matter how much we root for something, life, time and we ourselves sometimes find a way to destroy it.

WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

Let me start by saying that I have a melancholy affinity with robots, which may have stemmed from early childhood viewings of the Short Circuit films (seeing Johnny Five write ‘I am dying’ on a wall is truly horrific) or may just mean I am a little strange, oddly wired if you will. But whenever there is a cute robot in a film, my first thought/worry is what is going to happen to the little guy/gal, making me wish there was a website equivalent of doesthedogdie.com to spare any potential heartache. Honestly if something bad happens to BB8 in the forthcoming instalments of Star Wars I am going to go turbo. Which brings me to Wall-E, a film I find to be absolutely gorgeous yet strewn with scenes and moments that make my soul wince and curl up into a foetal position, it is one that I hesitate to re-watch for the blues that it creates. The first part of the film is what kicks it to me, the wordless elegance for which Pixar should be applauded for featuring in a (supposed) kid’s movie, sees Wall-E as the last robot on Earth, tidying up the planet one piece at a time. But Wall-E has developed a personality and a home, littered with items he has found on his travels that creates a haunting sense of loneliness. In one scene as he wheels about the planet, he replaces one of his faulty parts with one of the many ‘fallen’ versions of him that scatter the Earth (Kids film? God it’s like Short Circuit all over again) which is eerie and saddening. Of course this being Pixar, the mood and narrative of the film lightens and becomes filled with adventure and Wall-E does find love with the sophisticated robot Eve, but not before being smashed in and (temporarily) losing his identity and uniqueness (God it really is like Short Circuit all over again). And it also doesn’t help that, despite being a ramshackle rust bucket, Wall-E has the most adorable expressive face and mannerisms that make my heart hurt every time something bad happens to him.  Perhaps I have said too much of my robot inclinations but Pixar have an innate way of, whilst entertaining the children, giving the adults a hefty tug on the heartstrings, from the fate of Bing Bong in Inside Out to the emotional devastation of THAT montage in Up, and Wall-E is no exception. The cute little robot had to wait 700 years for his Eve to arrive, a shorter time than it will take me to watch the film again, but still a time it will take for me to revisit that lonely planet.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

I deliberated with myself whether to include this film in my list for two reasons, firstly because I feel I include it in pretty much every list I tend to write (the reasons why may become apparent shortly) and two because it is a film I have watched many times but it is one that becomes harder to watch as the years go by, despite being in my top 5 all timers. But then I decided it had to part of this list because the film has become so intrinsic to my life, for which I cannot ignore and for which makes tough viewing. As with certain songs that can transport you back to a time and place, I find the same is true of films and none so more for me than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. When the film was released I was just into the first throes of University (studying film of course) and I became a little obsessed with it, immediately influenced by the way it was filmed and wanting to be the next Michel Gondry ( I didn’t of course). I went to watch it five times at the cinema and endlessly played the soundtrack on repeat, but it wasn’t just the style and direction that I fell in love with, thematically the film spoke to me and I still believe it is one of the greatest representations of love to be depicted on screen. Despite its offbeat approach and inventive visuals Eternal Sunshine manages to be a wholly honest portrayal of relationships and how we often repeat the same mistakes over again, even though we convince ourselves that we won’t. Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) may be doomed but they are willing to go experience the heartache to relive the golden moments, to bask in the sunshine of the early flourishes and promises. It is a question I often ask my (if you hadn’t realised already) melancholy self and the reason for this list of films. Would I go through University again knowing that I would not become the next Gondry (or Sofia Coppola as I also once hoped) and the answer is yes, because I still love film and despite the pain that comes with watching films such as Eternal Sunshine, it reminds me of my passion and why I love film, because sometimes films get me, and affect me, more than I can ever comprehend. I also realised writing this article that just because a film is one of my all time favourites, it does not mean watching it over and over again because they are already so ingrained into me, the pleasure and the pain, that the mere mention of them will stir an emotive response, one that I will never forget and one that does not necessarily need repeating. Although I cannot resist the chance to see Eternal Sunshine on the big screen again next week at Hyde Park so with my pack of tissues and my bag of malaise I will endure the heartbreak for the magnificence. Wish me luck dear reader.

Review- Midnight Special (directed by Jeff Nichols)

midnight poster

In the short space of three films, Jeff Nichols has established himself as a director worthy of the term auteur, bringing emotional depth and lyrical storytelling to his work. From the anxiety inducing allegory of paranoia in rural America in Take Shelter (2011) to the Southern coming of age soul of Mud (2012), he skilfully blends heart with added dimensional undercurrents. With his fourth feature Midnight Special, Nichols continues to build upon his impressive cinematic catalogue, this time dipping his toes into the science fiction genre pool but without sacrificing his knack for emotive integrity.

The film begins with a news report of child abduction but the pieces of the story begin to form a different picture. A child has been taken, from a dubious settling known as The Ranch populated by a set of deeply religious members, but the child, eight year old Alton (Jaeden Lieberher),  was taken by his birth father  Roy (Michael Shannon) for his own protection and for Alton’s own purpose. It is revealed that Alton possesses otherworldly powers, his condition and capabilities grow and emerge further, a fact that makes him a target for both the Ranch, who believe he is their religious savour and for the FBI who believe he is a threat amidnight groupnd a potential weapon.

What follows is a race against time as Roy, accompanied by his former childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), a state trooper who is affected by his predicament and who believes in Alton’s plight, head across the Southern landscape to reach a preordained destination  whilst being tailed by government officials and a couple of sinister Ranch members. If these narrative tropes seem familiar, those expecting bold brass sci-fi action may be disappointed because what emerges is something altogether different but all the more rewarding for it. The film adopts a slow burn journey that cares as much about the family drama at the heart of the matter as its bolder story arch and allows its actors to inhabit their characters. Michael Shannon who is Nichols go to guy, again displays why he is one of the best and most underrated actors around with a performance that speaks so much with so little words. His expressions and mannerisms belie the inner turmoil he is wrestling; every pained breath discloses the duality of Roy’s situation, his sorrow and his determination.  When Roy tells Alton ‘I like worrying about you’ Shannon echoes the words that many parents must feel, that it is their job to protect their child, no matter where the consequences will take them. Kirsten Dunst continues her semi renaissance after Fargo with a contrasting sensitive turn as Alton’s mother who was exiled from the Ranch and has a fleeting reunion with her son, avoiding sentimentality. Joel Edgerton is on solid form as the type of friend we would hope to have in a desperate situation-proactive and resourceful; his limited knowledge of Alton’s back-story doesn’t prevent him from believing in his purpose. Adam Driver portrays a sense of earnestness and heart that is a million galaxies away from Kylo Ren, his Adam Sevier is the type of government agent we would hope to have in a desperate situation, he wants to understand Alton and not merely contain him. Meanwhile Jaeden Lieberher sidesteps the precocious child act that Haley Joel Osment cornered once upon a time to deliver a naturalistic performance beyond his years/this world. midnight drive

The effects tend to serve the film rather than overshadow it, the early restraint gives way to a flourish in the final act yet we never descend into over reliance of CGI which is something to be commended and something to be thankful for in this cinematic age. The aesthetic and themes of Midnight Special have drawn comparisons to late 1970s/early 80s science fiction films particularly those of Spielberg and it is easy to see why, the DNA of Close Encounters and ET weave into its fabric, though Nichols should be celebrated for bringing his own vision and not merely emulating his peers. He has created a film of hope, of earnestness in a somewhat cynical time, one that will no doubt confound as many as it will attract, for it does not unravel all of its mysteries.

But the point is not to have all the answers, it is merely a snapshot of time, we as the audience experience what Alton’s parents do, the uncertainty of the situation, trying to form a grasp of the events-how and why did Alton come to be and where is he headed, yet we are not given the bigger picture. We can only go so far along the journey and the rest, like many things in life, has not been written.

Films of 2015

And so the turkey has been eaten, the presents have been unwrapped and as Christmas draws to a close, thoughts turn reflective and so to my end of year round up of the films that for me have been the best in 2015. Apologies to Macbeth, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Mommy and Sicario which I didn’t get chance to watch. And also to White God which I was too scared to watch (I don’t like doggy violence)

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21) Mission Impossible-Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie)

mission-impossible-rogue-nation-poster-wallpaperSay what you will about Tom Cruise but he still remains a bloody great movie star, embodying the all action mantel and giving the audience a giant dollop of spectacle. In a world of CGI, the sight of Cruise clinging to the side of a plane that is taking off is made all the more exciting for knowing that the crazy bastard actually did it. And this is within the first ten minutes of the film! Rogue Nation ticks the boxes we have come to expect from Mission Impossible, delivering nail biting stunts, a multitude of locations and a host of espionage duplicity yet it also brings a new element to the table. With the addition of Rebecca Ferguson as suspicious agent Ilsa Faust, the franchise is elevated with freshness from this kick ass character. In a year where strong female leads have thankfully been more present, Ferguson is more than a match for Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and is never reduced to becoming his love interest, instead often leaving him in her powerful wake and proves there’s life in this ole entertaining franchise yet.

20) The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)

lobster2-xlargeCertainly not to everyone’s taste Yorgos Lanthimos’ English Language debut was a divisive concoction but one whose oddity I found darkly refreshing. Set in a near future where people who are single must go to a hotel and find a companion within 45 days or be turned into an animal, the film really flies with comic absurdity from the beginning. Colin Farrell’s bespectacled frump comes to the hotel looking for a mate, along with an assortment of lonely and confused fellow guests but ends up drawn to a woman (Rachel Weisz) who is part of the resistance to the social dictation. Though the film loses some momentum during its second act, when we are within the hotel, The Lobster is one the most wickedly inventive films of the year and features some excellent oddball turns particularly from Ben Whishaw and Olivia Colman.

19) The Gift ( Joel Edgerton)

gordoJoel Edgerton shows that he is as nuanced behind the camera as he is in front of it with his directorial debut The Gift, an impressively tight thriller with menacing restraint. Edgerton plays Gordo, the former school weirdo who uncomfortably makes his way into the lives of former classmate Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall). Things soon turn sinister with the delivery of gifts to the couple, which begin to unravel the interior of their relationship. Edgerton runs a tight ship, cranking up the tension to an unnerving and bravado ending and pulling a malevolent performance from Bateman, turning the nice everyman persona he usually adopts and producing something entirely compelling and darkly interesting.

18) Eden (Mia Hansen-Love)

edenMy partner, an aspiring musician, was reduced to inconsolable malaise after watching Mia Hansen-Love’s odyssey to French house music from the 90s and beyond.  The problem was that the film was such a compelling and authentic portrayal of the music scene, that it captured the ecstasy and agony so painfully perfect in equal measure. Like a hipster version of the Les McQueen narrative from the League of Gentlemen, we follow aspiring Paris DJ Paul (Félix de Givry) who lives for music and the euphoric state it envelopes him in, as he achieves a level of success and riding high, only to fall out of favour with the crowds and out of touch with the scene. It also perfectly encapsulates the passing of youth, how idle and naïve we, believe, like the best sound-tracked nights of our lives that it will last forever. It’s a shit business but one that we cannot help but be seduced by.

17) Inside Out (Pete Docter)

inside-outMany said Pixar was on the wan after its recent disappointing output but it proved they can still pull it out the bag with the inventive and dazzling Inside Out. Set inside the head of an 11 year old girl, who has to traverse the emotional minefield of moving house and leaving all she has ever known behind, the film allows the emotions to be the stars of the film as we experience Joy, Anger, Disgust, Sadness and Fear. The premise allows for clever set ups and an exciting race against time through a young girls head, taking an often Freudian slant at times with ideas aplenty. It may not quite live up to the majesty of Wall-E or Up but it is a definite return to form for Pixar. Just don’t mention Bing Bong or the waterworks will start again.

16) A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)

girl-walks-home-alone1Stylish, sexy, offbeat and cool. Perhaps not the words you would associate with a black and white Iranian film. But how about a black and white Iranian vampire film? Like the lovechild of Jim Jarmusch and Jean Luc Godard, director Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut is a monochrome delight, with a morose but droll spirit and a bewitching lead performance by Sheila Vand, the eponymous girl of the title, a lonely vampire who wanders the night time streets of a district called Bad City.  Stunningly veiled in black and white, at once stark but also rich, the film evokes an air of perpetual emotion, loneliness has never looked so cool or romantic. It would make a great companion piece to Jurmusch’s fellow vampire film Only Lovers left Alive, both a world away from the connotations left by the Twilight saga,  the two showing how to really get to the heart of the undead.

15) The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)

The Tribe by the Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav SlaboshpytskiyMy most unsettling experience at the cinema this year came after watching this film but it was also my most unforgettable. Set within a Ukrainian boarding school for deaf teenagers, The Tribe signalled a landmark within the medium by presenting the film with no dialogue and no subtitles.  We are left with the visuals which entirely speak for themselves as the pupils create a microcosm of violence, illegal activities and a hierarchy of cruelty. When we do hear sound it is startling and often disturbing from the screams of a girl in pain to the aftermath of an act of vengeance, The Tribe is a stark piece of endurance cinema that revels previous unsettling benchmark setter Dogtooth, something I do say lightly.

14) Crimson Peak (Guillermo Del Toro)

Crimson-Peak-Tom-Hiddleston-Jessica-ChastainGothic horror made a welcome return to the big screen this year with Guillermo Del Toro’s lavish Crimson Peak, a film drenched in sumptuous period detail and with a beautifully old fashioned ghost story at its heart. The triple acting threat of Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastian provide the perfect accompaniment to the film’s evocative design, with Wasikowska providing the steely determination as our plucky heroine and Chastian relishing the opportunity to sneer with all the venom of cinema’s greatest ice maidens. Rather than pandering to the modern cinematic ideal of horror, Del Toro instead provided a love letter to the classics of both the film and the literary genre, with nods to Hitchcock, Kubrick, The Bronte Sisters and Edgar Allen Poe.

13) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez Rejon)

CinemaMeEarlDyingGirl-680x383Cruelly overlooked at the box office, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl managed to be that rarest of things, a coming of age teen movie that has emotion but isn’t corny or overtly syrupy. It is also a film lover’s film made by a film lover. Alfonso Gomez Rejon’s debut is laden with cinematic references to American counter culture and European arthouse classics and it radiates a true affection for the medium. Greg, a socially detached teenager (Thomas Mann, the Me of the title) channels his film influences and makes parodies of his favourites (Sockwork Orange, Rosemary’s Baby Carrots, The 400 Bros) with his friend Earl. When he is asked to hang out with Rachel (the dying girl, played beautifully by Olivia Cooke), Greg uses his creativity for a purpose and begins to see beyond a life of remakes. Look beyond the mawkish title and discover a charming gem which should find its audience on the small screen and become a future cult classic in its own right.

12) Amy (Asif Kapadia)AmyWhat could have been a cautionary tale of a girl gone wrong becomes a tragic case of a talented girl who was abused by the industry she wanted to be part of and betrayed by those who she loved. Asif Kapadia’s moving documentary of the short life of Amy Winehouse goes beyond the cheap shock factor of the tabloid pictures and the calamity of her incoherent stage performances to reveal a young woman who vulnerabilities made her susceptible to the darker side of fame, built up through old home movie footage and testimonies from those who knew her. Unsurprisingly Amy’s father Mitch does not come out of this well and since the release has condemned the film however he cannot deny his accountability in her derailment. A scene where Mitch brings a camera crew to St Lucia where Amy is trying yet again to recover is one of the most heartbreaking moments you could witness. Amy is an afflicting, devastating snapshot of a girl who wanted to vanish but whose fame refused to let her.

11) Mistress America (Noah Baumbach)

mistress-americaNoah Baumbach delivered two great films this year, first there was While we’re Young, which was followed by Mistress America, a reteaming with his partner and writing partner Greta Gerwig which produced a deliciously entertaining screwball comedy about female friendship. Gerwig is this time less the lovable loser than she was in Frances Ha, or at least in her characters eyes she isn’t. She plays Brooke, a woman who appears to be living the hip New York dream, however her reality is revealed through her relationship with her soon to be stepsister Tracey (Lola Kirke) who is at first enthralled by her but then pulls at the curtain and the truth behind it. Baumbach and Gerwig prove that great writing and great performing can produce something that feels fresh and relevant yet also pleasing old school, reminiscent of Billy Wilder movies where dialogue was king. Mistress America also passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, showing that a female centric comedy can be at the forefront of cinema.

10) It Follows (David Mitchell)

IT-FOLLOWS-Official-Trailer-YouTube-630x343The horror genre found a fresh vibe with this year’s sleeper hit It Follows, David Mitchell’s masterfully inventive much needed addition to the genre. The simple yet striking plot was like the physical manifestation of a chain letter as a gang of teenage friends try to protect one of their own who, after sleeping with her boyfriend, is pursued by a mysterious entity, one that is takes the form of different people as it persistently stalks its victim until the curse is transferred through sexual contact. Refreshingly the film does not use the narrative as an excuse for exploitation or titillation and instead builds upon a truly haunting sense of dread; the underlying theme of teenage sexualisation is handled with unspoken subtlety. Its John Carpenter meets The Virgin Suicides feel makes it the most stylish and more importantly most creepy horror of the year.

9) Slow West (John Maclean)

slow-west shaveMichael Fassbender continues his run of interesting choices and excellent performances with John Maclean’s sophomore Western. Set amongst the wild terrain of 19th century Colorado, former Beta Band member Maclean creates a sharp, tense tale of young Scottish man Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who travels to the plains of America in search of his love who has had to flee her home. Along the way he is ‘befriended’ by Fassbender’s Silas and tracked by an assortment of nefarious characters, all out for their own ill gotten gain, creating the classic trademarks of a Western. Yet Maclean brings a lyricism and a minimalist poetry to the film, aided by ravishing cinematography, splashes of Tarantino-esque violence and another charismatic turn by Fassbender.

8) The Duke of Burgandy (Peter Strickland)

The-Duke-of-Burgundy3-xlargeThe film that was everything that Fifty Shades wasn’t, erotic, playful, sexy and seductive, and all done without a splash of nudity; Peter Strickland’s third feature was a unique take on the ideas of an S &M relationship between two women. Set within an undisclosed time and place, though the detail suggests a rural 70s era, we are transported into an otherworldly vibe, where women attend lectures on butterflies and men appear to be wholly absent, all set to a sublime soundtrack by Cats Eyes. Though the film flirts with pastiche, it manages to retain a bewitching cocktail of the ideas of submission and dominance between two women whose roles are not as clearly defined as they seem. Strickland remains a director in total command of his vision and whose none conformity to the ideas of British cinema mark him as one of the most exciting filmmakers of the moment.

7) Appropriate Behaviour (Desiree Akhavan)

appropriate-behavior-2014-005-three-women-in-lingerie-store2015 was the year I fell for Desiree Akhavan after watching her witty, sardonic debut Appropriate Behaviour. A semi autobiographical tale of an Iranian twentysomething living in Brooklyn, trying and failing at both relationships and trying to tell her parents that she is bisexual, Akhavan has created a razor sharp comedy with echoes of a modern day Annie Hall and a suitable showcase for her writing/acting talent. Yes it may be another hip indie movie set in New York and has justifiable comparisons to Girls (Akhavan has since starred in the series) but in the Dunham era of female representation on screen, frankly I say the more the merrier, with Akhavan proving a welcome edition.

6) Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

whiplash-003The film that made the words ‘Not my tempo’ as chilling as anything that may be delivered in a horror movie, Damien Chazelle’s debut takes the age old idea that art comes from suffering and applies this to the Jazz world creating the most tense film of the year. Miles Teller excels as young drummer Andrew who is pushed to his limits by the teacher whose approval he desires the most. That teacher is Fletcher played with magnificent authority by JK Simmons who dominates the film with his terrifying demeanour. The film also features some of the finest editing on screen this year, matching the music, note for note and building to a crescendo in the final scene that tests the nail biting patience of even the most resilient person.

5) Phoenix (Christian Petzold)

phoenixA plot reminiscent of 50s melodrama and Hitchcockian overtones combine to make the best foreign film of the year. Phoenix is a study of the physical and mental wounds of war and two people who have ‘survived’ it, Nelly (Nina Hoss) a Jewish former club singer who has undergone facial reconstruction after her ordeals in the War and Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) her husband who may or may not have shopped her to the SS. Nelly returns to her husband but he doesn’t recognise her and convinced his real wife is dead, instead offers her the opportunity to pose as Nelly so he can claim her inheritance. The characters are unable to see what the audience can, Johnny is unable to see his wife, for to do so he would have to accept the consequences of War and Nelly is unable to let go of her husband despite his duplicitous nature. The stage is set for an achingly brittle love story, with shades of Vertigo and Eyes without a Face, one which also provides the best final scene in a film this year, as Nelly performs ‘Speak Low’, the ramifications of War are fully realised in a devastating blow.

4) Star Wars (J J Abrams)

star wrs.jpgNot a huge fan-girl of the originals, nevertheless I cannot ignore the pure joyous cinematic thrill ride of J J Abrams return to form for the biggest franchise in the galaxy. Erasing the bitter taste left by ‘those three’, we get the sequel that Han, Leia and co truly deserve; both honouring the legacy carved before it and introducing new welcome additions to the film. Amongst those are Rey (Daisy Ridley-promising), Finn (John Boyega- star quality) and a magnificent new baddie in the form of Kylo Ren (the excellent Adam Driver).  The battle sequences showcase the sheer spectacle that cinema can hold and the sight of Han Solo back in the Millennium Falcon is one to cherish. To see it is to be transported back to childhood and to be reminded of how magical film can be.

3) Brooklyn (John Crowley)

BrooklynDirector John Crowley’s film succeeds where many Nicholas Sparks adaptations fail, to feel authentic and to take a woman’s relatable journey and turn it into something beautifully heartfelt. Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman who leaves her homeland for better prospects in 1950s America and struggles adjusting to life without her family. However she finds romance with a young Italian (a charming Emory Cohen) but, through personal circumstances, is drawn back to Ireland and becomes torn between the two worlds. This is impeccable filmmaking with every element working, from the gorgeous cinematography to the pitch perfect performances from the entire cast, with Ronan at the heart of it all. Her performance encapsulates a range of emotions with each one delivered with restraint and sincerity, her wholly expressive face dominates the screen when words are simply not needed or will not form. Brooklyn is one of the years finest, a film that brims with a classic feel and builds with an exquisite swell and ache of the heart.

2) Carol (Todd Haynes)

cateWe all knew that the combination of director Todd Haynes, Cate Blanchett and source material from Patricia Highsmith would not be dynamite and Carol did not disappoint, becoming not just the most beautiful love story of the year but the most beautiful film of the year. Every detail of Hayne’s film is exquisite as we witness the relationship between two women in 1950s America who are unable to deny a love which transcends the time it was born into. Blanchett and Rooney Mara make for a magical pairing, both at the top of their acting game, matching each other perfectly with an expression yearning. Awards surely await this masterpiece of cinema.

1) Max Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

mad maxNo one knew quite what to expect from George Miller’s long delayed return to the Mad Max territory, and though a thrilling trailer suggested great things, it’s safe to say that many people were still blown away by the stonking bombastic spectacle that was Mad Max: Fury Road. Thrill rides don’t come any bigger or any more demented, from jaw dropping stunts to flame wielding guitars, the film plays like a steam punk version of Stagecoach as Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa betrays her tyrannical patriarch Immortan Joe (Mad Max stalwart Hugh Keays-Byrne). She takes across the desert in her war rig with Joe’s prized possessions, his ‘breeders’ (a group of scantily clad girls designed for baby making) and crosses paths with Tom Hardy’s Max, all of which leads to an almighty kamikaze showdown. The making of Fury Road has become just as infamous as the film, from the 30 year labour of love Miller has dedicated to this project, to the freedom and budget his vision was given by the studio (almost unheard of in this day and age), to the production of the film which favoured real custom built cars and real life effects instead of CGI, the results are blazed across the big screen. The film also gave us the most badass heroine since Ripley in the form of Theron’s one armed warrior Furiosa, and whilst Hardy’s Max is played with the actor’s usual magnetism, it is Theron who drives the film and is at its heart. She is a steely determined force of nature, unwavering in her mission and is played with iconic gusto by Theron, inspiring a legion of fans.

There is talk of sequels but it is hard to imagine they will be able to replicate this surprise beast, a true action tour de force and a truly mad film, one that smashes the theory that we have seen it all before, our eyes can witness something new, something that burns into our eyes as a visceral cinematic experience.

Review- Carol

carol poster

Stolen glances across a room, a yearning face pressed against a frosted window pane, a toy train circling its inevitable continuous destination. These recurring shots, loaded with unspoken meaning, define the story of two women on an unstoppable journey towards each other, drawn by the one thing that we are powerless to resist in Todd Haynes’ impeccable love story Carol.

The film begins by firmly establishing the decade that we are in, the 1950s, as the camera glides along the streets of Manhattan, as we follow a gentleman to his destination of the Ritz Charlton where we happen upon Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) with a companion, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara). The two women exchange a seemingly casual farewell, however the placing of a hand on the shoulder and a pained expression hint at a telling history between the two, which is revealed in a series of events that capture the sparks of meeting someone and the eventual surrender of falling on love.

The first encounter between Mara’s shop girl and budding photographer Therese and Blanchett’s immaculate yet vulnerable 50s socialite happens in the depacarol firstrtment store where Therese works. Carol is looking for a doll for her daughter yet is persuaded by Therese to buy a train set instead, one that requires the address of the buyer and with a (deliberate?) move by Carol of forgetting her gloves on the counter, a subtle invitation has been offered to Therese to pursue something beyond a simple purchase. Therese is drawn to Carol’s older sophisticated woman; she offers something akin to her own soul, unable to find satisfaction with her own peers and an indifference to her nice guy boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy). Carol meanwhile is not merely attracted to Therese as a distraction for a bored 50s housewife, every look that is thrown her way is reciprocated to Therese who is a beacon of purity and truth for a woman who has to deny her innate existence because of social dictation. On their first lunch date Carol declares to Therese ‘“What a strange girl you are. Flung out of space!”

The conventions of the time, the social taboo and distain for a forbidden love force the two women to conduct their blossoming affair away from prying eyes and Carol becomes a semi road trip movie, a beautiful cross country journey, the two edge closer and closer towards each other by the more distance throoneyey travel. But Carol is pulled back from this haven of freedom by her soon to be ex husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), embroiled in an increasingly bitter divorce and custody battle for their child Rindy, she must choose between her daughter and the person that she really wants to be, the stifling nature of her position set to consume her.

With Carol, Todd Haynes has created a love story for the ages and produced the most cinematically beautiful film of the year. Every element and detail is sculpted to perfection from the sumptuous period design, to Carter Burwell’s score that aches with suppressed desire to the pitch perfect pacing that leaves the viewer yearning for the two leads to be able to freely release their feelings. Haynes, who has previously shown his confidence in classic melodrama with the Douglas Sirk inspired Far from Heaven and his TV adaptation of the definitive ‘woman’s picture’ Mildred Pierce, excels again in this arena. His film never descends into pastiche and his meticulous direction means no shot is anything less than stunning and every action is loaded with emotion, filling the scene with meaning before the dialogue arrives.

cate

And then of course there are the performances of two actresses at the peak of their game. It is easy to expect Blanchett to be excellent, to take it for granted that she will deliver, however she continues to raise the bar that she has already set herself so high. Her Carol is a woman who is polished to perfection but wears her riches like armour, to shield her brittle existence, an emotional prisoner of the time she lives in.  Blanchett never allows this character to be caught however in overwrought acted melodrama, she finds depth and subtle emotion in her portrayal to the point that when we return to the scene at the beginning of the film, just before she bids farewell to Therese, her final plea to her lover is delivered with the most heartbreaking profoundness.  Mara also excels in a role that draws to her strengths as an actress, the frostiness that often envelopes her face to steel her emotions works perfectly as Therese, a woman who is hungry for deeper connections yet seems to retreat from society, confused by any new feelings that hit her unexpectedly. She tries to remain poised yet you sense the fire that burns within her so that when she breaks her pursed lips into a smile, it is charming but equally when she breaks down it is truly devastating.  The final scene is a wordless master-class between the two actresses that produces a genuinely heart stopping cinematic moment.

Carol is, at its core, a simple love story but one that will make you swoon from each of its frames and one that makes you realise and remember that the power of love transcends the barriers that fight to control it. In one scene Carol remarks and repeats to Therese “angel… flung out of space”. These are two women living in a different space, at a different time in their lives yet the all consuming tide of love brings them together despite of this. Though it does not offer them a realised conclusion, it merely offers a moment in time, one that is the essence of love and in Haynes’ hands, the essence of cinema.

Whiplash at Square Chapel, Halifax


whiplash poster

The Square Chapel Centre for Arts has recently undertaken an initiative to show films at its historic building in Halifax, showing a mix of modern classics and recent critical hits including family favourite Matilda, cult classic Napoleon Dynamite, atmospheric chiller It Follows and the groundbreaking The Tribe. It continues its run of quality choices with the dazzling Whiplash, which burst onto cinema screens in January, cementing itself early on as a contender for one of the best films of the year, wowing both critics and audiences and smashing the idea that Jazz is all about laid back grooves.

Playing on the age old theory that art comes from suffering, Whiplash sees 19 year old Andrew (Miles Teller), a talented drummer at the Schaffer Conservatory of Music in New York City, who is practicing one night alone when formidable conductor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), who is stalking the halls like an intimidating apparition, hears him play. Shortly after, Andrew is picked for the school’s studio jazz band however it proves to be a baptism of fire as the tyrannical Fletcher pushes Andrew to his limits, physically and mentally, in order to achieve brilliance.

Any connotations of low lit cigarette fuelled jazz clubs are blown out of the water as here it is portrayed as a scalpel precision discipline, where a pupil’s slightest mistake is met with a flying chair and blood, sweat and tears are part of rigorous rehearsals.  Andrew becomes embroiled in a musical mind game with Fletcher, desperate and determined to win his revered approval and a placeWhiplash-5547.cr2 in the band which will lead to competitions attended by talent scouts. There are echoes of Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 ballet masterpiece The Red Shoes, where the young ballerina sacrifices everything for her talent, as does Andrew, subjecting himself to repeated misery and humiliation for his passion, dismissing family members and ending a blossoming romance which he deems as a distraction.

With a plot that could veer into gloomy melodrama, the film instead crackles with electricity, helped largely by the casting. Miles Teller is a beguiling screen presence as Andrew, a mix of intensity and vulnerability, able to push himself to the limits with steely passion yet also reduced to a quivering wreck by the man whose validation he severely craves.  Howwhiplash-003ever the film is dominated by Simmon’s Fletcher, clad in black, he is like a respected yet feared dictator, a simple hand gesture can crush a pupil, like the teacher you dreaded at school turned up to eleven. Previously the dependable supporting player in comedic roles, JK Simmons relishes his chance to play such a vicious character, his nice guy persona twisted into something terrifying, an unrelenting alpha male who believes his teaching style will wield the best from his students. Simmons deservedly won an Oscar for his performance and also spawned a new catchphrase in cutting dismissal.

Director Damien Chazelle keeps the pace of the film like a perfectly timed piece of music, prone to outbursts of dramatic flair but all the while simmering with tension, building up to a crescendo, the final scene plays out like a master class in edge of your seat exhilarating filmmaking. And whilst the emotional resolution of Whiplash may be ambiguous, dependent on your stance on the relationship between teacher and pupil, you will find it hard to witness a better finale in cinema this year.

In appreciation of The Rex

rex insideCinema, for me, has always been a special experience, as a child it was a treat to go and sit in the darkness of the theatre and see the pictures come to life before your eyes. I loved everything about the cinema, the smell of the popcorn in the foyer, the red curtains that hid the screen before showtime, the interval where you could discuss the progress of the narrative with your companion(s) or grab an ice cream from the tray clad staff and most of all, the feeling of being transported into another world or to share someone else’s journey. My formative cinema going years were so profound that they would cement a consuming love of film that would continue throughout my life and my studies.

But it is hard these-days to still feel the same wonder that the cinema held as a child, obviously part of this is down to the sheer fact of growing older but modern cinemas have become a soulless place where profit overrides passion. Gone are the velvet curtains and projectors and in their place are uniform seats and giant digital screens, though they often herald state of the art technology, it has erased the individual charm that a theatre held. Going to my local Odeon is often a miserable occasion, from the inflated prices and extra charges whacked on to a ‘blockbuster’ to the disrespect that the audience shows for the film and for one another, feet adorn the back of the chairs with casual ignorance and the glow of a mobile phone often disrupts your viewing.  It is hard to feel the magic of cinema when someone’s Facebook page is in your eye line.

So thank heaven for the Independents that keep the spirit alive, cinemas near where I live such as Hyde Park Picture House which offers an eclectic programme of films and the passion for the medium is evoked not just on-screen but by the staff too. Or the Hebden Bridge Picture House which is situated in the pretty village, known for its creativity and which has loyal patrons who are open to diverse pictures.

A few months ago I visited an Independent cinema which transported me back to my childhood and gave me a huge batch of nostalgic fuzzies. The Rex in Elland is a small white building that stands proudly on a side street of the small town. Built in 1912 the cinema has weathered a turbulent history, endured different carnations and suffered closure due to diminishing numbers brought othe rexn by the domination of television but in 1988 The Rex was taken over and refurbished and has since built up a reputation as a traditional, engaging cinema with affectionate patrons. As I walked into the quant building, the first thing I was struck by was a feeling of warmth, of a place that felt welcoming and had bags of charm. I purchased a ticket (at a delightful £5)
from the friendly staff and some lovely popcorn that didn’t carry an inflated price and headed into the screen where I was hit by a wave of nostalgia as I took in my surroundings, the red velvet curtains that I remembered as a child adorned the screen and retro but cosy seats filled the room. They have an organist who plays before the film which adds an extra dimension of old-fashioned appeal and, set against the red velvet backdrop, gives an air that you have walked into an episode of Twin Peaks in the nicest possible way.

The cinema began to fill with families that brought a sense of community to the cinema, a small town with a central connection to each other and as the screen displayed the Pearl and Dean logo I suddenly went into a daze. Like the scene in Ratatouille where restaurant critic Anton Ego tastes the meal that transports him back to his childhood, I too felt like I had taken a ride in a time machine, my senses were consumed with smells and sounds of my youth. The film choice of Jurassic World was almost inconsequential but it heightened the experience as the first groundbreaking Jurassic Park was something I watched as a kid in my local cinema in Great Yarmouth. When there was in intermission and ice creams were served during the break, the biggest grin erupted on my face, reliving the giddy delight of grabbing a treat whilst waiting for the second half of the story. I felt overwhelmed by the memories that were evoked from this trip to the humble Rex and if anyone thinks that this all sounds a bit rose tinted twee then they don’t know how important cinema is to me and how powerful cinemarex twin peaks can be.

Film has the ability to bring people together from different ages and backgrounds and Independent cinemas can provide a lifeline for those who may live in rural areas, for those who may be vulnerable, for those who cannot afford the prices of the multiplex or those who simply prefer the intimacy that they can offer. Film has the power to bewitch us, to excite us and to move us; it can transport us to other worlds and conjure unexpected emotions.

My experience of The Rex sparked a strong emotional response; it recalled the purest form of cinema that I felt as a child, re-imagining the wonder and awe that the silver screen held, something that is often forgotten in these modern times, it is a place that felt wonderfully familiar but at the same time like a long-lost gem, a place to recapture the sincerity of cinema, unspoilt by progress.