Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 59 minutes, Director – Sam Mendes
Two soldiers (Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay) are ordered to cross no-man’s land and enemy territory to stop an attack that could kill over 1,600 men.
Back in 2015 Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman used the idea of multiple hidden cuts to make a film look like one continuous shot to add to the off-beat, and slightly chaotic, nature of the film. Now, five years later, Sam Mendes does the same, but to highlight the length and strains of the journey of two soldiers in World War One. Lance Corporal’s Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are commanded by Colin Firth – one of many short starry performances scattered throughout the film, alongside the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott and Mark Strong – to cross No Man’s Land, go into enemy territory and find another regiment, with commands to call off an attack due to occur at dawn the next day.
The film’s decision to make it look like everything is done in two shots (there’s a clear cut around half-way through the film) adds to the strain of the journey that the pair undertake; putting the viewer even more into their damp, muddy, worn-out boots. Across various terrains and dangers the viewer is always with the two central figures as they desperately attempt to cross unknown, deadly landscapes.
When mixed with the cinematography of master Roger Deakins, and superb sound and visual design there’s no denying that 1917 fully attempts to place the viewer in a visceral war environment. And for a fair deal of the run-time this is the case, as the two Lance Corporal’s traverse through trap filled enemy terrain deadly tension lingers with every step that they take. Whether through Thomas Newman’s score or the eerie silence and loud sound design of the piece almost every element of noise is precisely used to ramp up the tension and experience for the viewer as they are almost forced into the same experience as the central pair. Such levels only increasing as the film goes on, flowing well throughout and causing the run-time to go by rather quickly.
You only wish that the film could almost be relentless fast-paced action or movement throughout. While some of the quieter walking scenes, such as early ones as Chapman and MacKay’s characters hastily stumble through crowds in the trenches, do manage to hold the interest of the viewer there are some moments of gaps between action that almost become lulls. Moments where you wish that something else was going on. Not to the extent of a constant World War One style Mad Max: Fury Road – although that would be interesting to see – but still at some points you wish that the gaps between moments of strain and action would be slightly shorter for full impact and to keep the viewer near the edge of their seat with tension.
While amongst this the performances are all good there’s never really a point where they truly get to shine. It almost seems as if action and tension were put first at some points over character and emotional impact. There are one or two moments where the performances manage to display their full potential – one moment in particular of MacKay’s shocked soul staggering across the front line as it unfolds into a large battlefield, featured in much of the advertising for the film, truly shows the physical and emotional trauma that his character has been through up until this point in the film. In fact when it comes to the immense scale of the feat that is 1917’s finale the true extent and journey of the film is shown, as the tension and worry is truly ramped up for almost full-effect. It’s moments such as this throughout the film that make it what it is. Something to be experienced on the big screen, the biggest one possible. In fact, with this in mind, there are some points where the scale and feeling of another Iñárritu feature, The Revenant. While not quite on the same scale, run-time or elements of strain and torture, and an entirely different setting; the idea and to an extent feeling of peril and life-risking journey is still there. However, instead of nature being the enemy the struggle for survival is against the threat of both the unknown and the risk of enemy forces being around any corner.
Sam Mendes will very likely win the Best Director Oscar this year for his work on this film, and when you watch 1917 it’s clear to see how. This is definitely a technical achievement, the film may very well win a number of the technical awards on Oscar night. Each technical note goes towards creating something tense, immersive and visceral that should be experienced on the big screen. It’s just a shame that such feelings sometimes escape as the film threatens to slightly lull into quieter moments when it feels like it wants to have almost a constant stream of action and tension, with only one or two short gaps. Either way 1917 is absolutely a technical success that for the most part brings the viewer in for a finely designed world of tension and impact.
The technical elements are all present within 1917 with precise design and detail, making for an often intense, highly sensory tension-filled war feature. However the occasionally extended gaps between action do threaten to go on for slightly longer than may be required.
Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 49 minutes, Director – Jay Roach
Years of sexual harassment claims against Fox News founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) emerge after the firing of anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) amongst the rising heat of the 2016 Presidential election.
Aside from Charlize Theron’s much talked about transformation into Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly Bombshell is notably one of the first major films to tackle the Me Too movement. It’s a story detailing one of the major uprisings of sexual harassment claims in the media world. As the race to become the 2016 Republican Presidential candidate heats up Fox News finds itself in a row with front-runner Donald Trump. Specifically prime time anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron).
As already mentioned Theron is completely unrecognisable as the prominent Fox News host (helped by the Oscar winning man who transformed Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour; Kazu Hiro). Not just when it comes to the prosthetics but also her posture and voice. In fact, to an extent, if you weren’t aware that Theron was underneath the make-up you could be forgiven for thinking that the figure you were actually seeing on-screen was Megyn Kelly. At the start of the film Kelly walks through the offices of Fox News explaining to the viewer the different kinds of people that work there, and the power that they have over others – the sequences feel very much like something out of The Big Short (screenwriter Charles Randolph was the co-writer on that film), while never entering the realm of satire. Power that many use for their own good, none more so than founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow).
It’s made clear early on that Ailes will only allow women on Fox News if they’re willing to sexualise themselves and be attractive not just for the sake of viewers, but for him personally. Short dresses, legs and pads to make breasts look larger are all elements that he commands, screaming at producers in control rooms for wide shots to show as much of female presenters as possible. However, the true extent to what occurs at Fox News is seen in Roger’s personal office. Hopeful female presenters and producers are asked to give him a twirl and show him their legs – one scene in particular with Margot Robbie’s producer Kayla Pospisil is rather uncomfortable to watch.
It’s through Kayla that we see much of what makes the brand such a toxic one to work for. Amongst the silencing of female voices, forced to agree with the men in the workplace, almost any liberal view is entirely shut down and disallowed. Kate McKinnon plays a fellow producer who is led to hide a picture of her with a friend from college in case it gives away that she’s a lesbian – let alone one that supports Hillary Clinton.
All of this is happening whilst a rising court case against Ailes’ years of sexual harassment is being led by anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), an effectively quietly angry performance. Her figure struggles to get more women to speak out against the dominant founder of the network, and friend of Rupert Murdoch (a late-appearing, yet, of course, great, Malcolm McDowell). Nobody wants to speak out in fear of loosing their job, even those who have been demoted to local news fear for speaking out, in case it would affect their reputation and chances of being employed anywhere else.
For a large proportion of the film these three lines are switched between. Often it almost seems as if one character has been forgotten about if we don’t see what’s happening to them for around 20 minutes. All three performances are certainly passionate and Theron is worthy of her Oscar nominations, with great support from Kidman and Robbie, she steals the show in every scene that she’s in. And while the performances from the entire cast are clearly passionate and, as mentioned, great. The screenplay sometimes feels slightly less passionate.
At some points in the piece it almost feels as if certain characters are speaking in exactly the same way, but it also feels as if the level of anger and passion from the three central performers isn’t quite there in the screenplay. The thought does begin to occur at one point that maybe this film or story would have been better off in the hands of a female writer, and even director. While the script as a whole is perfectly fine and the final film does what it does fairly well. Led by three fiery performances and some truly effective scenes and ideas, however there are some lulls where the screenplay doesn’t quite rage as much as the film may possibly need? It begins to slightly dip during some quiet moments where as characters struggle to find people who are vocal about similar experiences the film almost seems to be unsure as to where to go, like the characters at some points. When mixed with the three different storylines – which admittedly come together rather well in the final 25 or so minutes – the film does border on being slightly messy, only just avoiding this feeling. However, despite its flaws and what it does there’s enough to like about Bombshell to make it a good watch, and maybe if it wasn’t for the three leading performances the film wouldn’t have turned out to be as good and fiery as it is.
Charlize Theron steals the show as she leads three fiery and passionate performances in one of the first major films to tackle the Me Too movement. However, at some points you wish that the script had as much flare and rage, maybe if it was written, and even had been directed, by a woman it might have turned out differently?
The decade that was the 2010’s saw a great deal of change across the Hollywood landscape. While it might seem as if Disney bought everything there’s been a rise in fresh, unique and original filmmaking talent making waves in the land of cinema. Pushed by movements such as Times Up, Black Lives Matter and Me Too, there’s been an increase in diversity and entertaining cinematic stories. Meanwhile, we’ve also seen the development of various franchises, most notably that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which overtime has gone on to dominate the box office – Endgame after all overtook Avatar as the highest grossing film of all time.
The changes in cinematic voices have clearly been well received by audiences. Total box office gross for the year has increased almost each year of the decade. Something which goes hand-in-hand with the development and increase in quality that we can see almost every year. It seems as if the amount of ‘bad’ films released is dramatically diminishing. Very rarely do we now walk out of the cinema thinking negatively about the feature that we’ve just seen.
In this special ‘Review Of The Decade’ show I’m kindly joined by a number of brilliant guests to look back at, and discuss, the decade that was the 2010’s in film. Covering the best, the underseen gems, the films that had us crying with laughter and emotion, those that had us hiding behind the seats and those that had us wanting to do nothing more than be inside the spectacular worlds that we were witnessing, and much more.
Links to the guests Twitter accounts, and requested songs can be found below.
Make sure to check out the work of each guest! Trust me, these are all great writers overflowing with immense passion for film, and that definitely comes across in what they do, which is genuinely brilliant.
A huge thank you to each guest for kindly giving up time to take part in this! It was a great pleasure to talk you!
While the likes of Best Picture and Best Director are still being hotly debated one of the closest, and most talked about, races in this year’s Oscars is that of Best Leading Actor. The day before the nominations are announced, here’s a look at the two figures who are believed to have the best chances of winning.
The Best Leading Actor race as part of this year’s Oscars has had two clear leads from almost the very start of the season. Joaquin Phoenix in Joker and Adam Driver in Marriage Story. Two very different performances. And while initially Driver was the clear favourite to win the award after winning the Golden Globe, and Joker’s success at other awards ceremonies, Phoenix has managed to inch his way into becoming the favourite to win.
In the past the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have shown what type of performances they prefer to award very clearly. Physical performances where the toll a character has had on an actor can clearly be seen, such as Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. This alongside transformative performances, and often ones where the actor goes through a physical change, as seen when Meryl Streep won Leading Actress for taking on Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, or even Gary Oldman as Churchill in Darkest Hour.
However, a clear love has also been shown for more natural, emotional and dramatic performances. Seen through the likes of Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea), Viola Davis (Fences) and Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) all picking up awards in the last decade. When such performances are present voters tend to lean towards them more than they would a physical performance of transformation. Favouring the more natural less ‘visible’ acting over the visible energy and movement of the more bodily performances and transformations that some actors go through, as is the case with Joaquin Phoenix in Joker,
Adam Driver’s performance in Marriage Story is one of those rare performances in which you can ‘see’ the emotional impact of events in the film on the character while their behaviour still remains natural and realistic – something which voters may be more likely to lean towards for two reasons. Firstly, because of the way that they can ‘see’ the extent of a performance such as this. As they can with one where the actor clearly goes the extra mile for the role, such as going through harsh conditions or losing or gaining weight, or simply capturing the details of disabilities and life-changing/ altering events, as Julianne Moore showed in Alzheimer’s drama Still Alice. Secondly, the fact that some voters might be able to simply recognise, and possibly identify, with Driver’s character in Marriage Story. They may have gone through similar events themselves, or experienced a stressful divorce as the figures in Marriage Story do. Connecting with the film and perhaps finding it somewhat recognisable?
Therefore, by sympathising with the central character, instead of pitying them (as some have claimed has been the case with the lead figure in Joker, for part of the run-time anyway), the more personal connection is formed. When heightened by the naturalistic tone of the film, and the performance as a whole, voters may be more inclined to vote for the person who captured how they felt a specific time in their lives, capturing the feeling so well. That is, of course, if they do manage to identify and connect with Driver’s performance.
One of the most notable, and memorable, scenes in Marriage Story is the viral moment when Driver’s character, Charlie, passionately belts out a rendition of Sondheim’s Being Alive. It’s arguably one of the best moments in a film from last year. The scene alone could be enough to win Driver the award on the big night. And it’s undeniably his performance that makes it as strong and powerful as it is, making the viewer want to clap and cheer if they aren’t in stunned silence from what they’ve just seen. The fact that this moment is so close to the very end of the film could be a further reason for a vote for Driver. It’s the memorable moment that could very well leave the lasting flavour of his performance in the minds of the viewer. Sealing the vote and decision of the voter because of the power of this sequence. However, this all depends on whether voters make their way through the entire film, or even watch it. They’re minds may already be made up, or they simply just might not reach this point in the film and lend their vote to someone else. That someone else could very well be Joaquin Phoenix.
Throughout the entire campaign for Phoenix to be nominated for, and win, the Best Leading Actor award this year a number of people have mentioned that the actor is long overdue an Oscar. It’s surprising to think that he’s only been nominated three times in the past, for Gladiator (Supporting Actor), Walk The Line and The Master (Leading Actor). In fact the latter film held the performance that many thought could win Phoenix the Oscar, although it ultimately went to Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. The nature of Phoenix’s overdue win is pushed further by the fact that many believe that his turns in the likes of You Were Never Really Here, Her and, for some, Inherent Vice were equally snubbed. The nature of such a long-due award could be what pushes Phoenix to the win, it’s not unknown that Academy voters often reward people across all categories who are said to have not got the awards recognition they perhaps deserve. In the past couple of years Roger Deakins won Best Cinematography on his 14th nomination. It took Scorsese up until 2007 to win Best Director, and have one of his films win Best Picture, for The Departed, and Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t win until his 6th acting nod. However, this idea may be beginning to wear thin. After all Glenn Close was the favourite to win in the Leading Actress category last year, on her seventh nomination, and the award went to Olivia Colman; while deserved it was certainly one of the biggest surprises of the night. Plus, Amy Adams has received six nominations and is yet to have a win. Although this could simply be an anomaly in the run of awarding overdue awards, or Oscars after multiple nominations with no wins.
And with the multiple wins that Black Panther had last year, although in the technical categories, and its inclusion amongst the Best Picture nominees, helped by the diversification of voters over the past few years tradition is definitely changing. Something which could work both in and against Phoenix’s favour.
If Joker does as well at gaining nominations as it has at other awards ceremonies, most notably its 11 BAFTA nominations, the most of all the nominees this year, a win for Phoenix seems even more likely. Add to that the already mentioned diversified, and introduction of younger, voters. Plus, the straying away from ‘conventional winners’ with genre films such as Get Out and Black Panther, and even the likes of Moonlight and The Shape Of Water, you could very easily say that this year’s Leading Actor award is firmly locked in. The golden statue could already have an engraved plaque reading along the lines of ‘Best Leading Actor 2020. Joaquin Phoenix. Joker’. And let’s not forget that an actor has previously won an Oscar for portraying not just a character in a comic-book movie, but also the Joker before. Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor in 2009 when taking on the role in The Dark Knight. And while we haven’t quite seen a nomination like this since then with the changing face of the Academy and nominees there could be a wider change sparking, and that could start; or rather continue, with another win for an actor playing The Joker. Not to mention mental decline, depravity, and physicality, being favourite themes of voters across the board. Things which are strong themes within Joker, and Phoenix’s portrayal of the character.
Phoenix and Driver are very possibly the only two ‘certain’ nominees in this year’s Best Leading Actor category. And it’s highly likely that the winner out of the two could come down to whoever the nominees are. Other potential names that could be included in the batch of nominees are; Taron Egerton (Rocketman), Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes), Antonio Banderas (Pain And Glory), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood) and Robert De Niro (The Irishman).
If Egerton appears then his physical performance, and take on real-life figure Elton John, could very well take away some votes from Phoenix – especially with his recent re-rise in popularity due to attention from other awards ceremonies, and a Golden Globe win in the Best Leading Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy category. Banderas could possibly affect Driver’s vote count or, like Pryce is presumed to do if nominated, could be a slight outsider with not much impact on voting.
When it comes to Leonardo DiCaprio his chances seem to have slightly declined in recent weeks, but still stand strong enough for him to receive a nomination. While he could get some votes it seems unlikely that he could win, although his true impact on voting isn’t properly known by anyone. He could very well have the same chances as Phoenix or Driver, so could any of the other nominees. Plus, Brad Pitt is currently the favourite to win in the Best Supporting Actor category, and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is amongst the top picks to win Best Picture. Although Best Picture is voted for via a preferential ballot, whereas all other categories are done so via a first past the post system. And, of course, this is all before the nominees are actually announced.
Finally, if nominated De Niro could be the dark horse of the category, and could very well ‘take away’ votes from the two suspected leaders of this apparent race. His performance of someone deeply holding down, limiting and restricting their emotions admittedly doesn’t often win awards however there are factors that do work in his favour. The gradual ageing of his character in The Irishman over the course of the film shows a mild transformation, although one assisted by VFX. There’s also the fact that he’s Robert De Niro and his star power alone could very well be enough to earn him a nomination. The fact that The Irishman is rather good, and a Scorsese film, might also help. And the chances of Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, with some believing a potential win for Pesci, in the Best Supporting Actor category for the same film are very high.
Who knows what could happen when it comes to the other nominees? We could even end up seeing Eddie Murphy (Dolemite Is My Name) and/or Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems) nominated. Especially after big pushes from various fronts including For Your Consideration sites and campaigns, the studios behind the films and even audiences, recent diversity rows and audience response to a lack of nominations for some actors in certain films and most importantly the fact that there are fantastic performances!
There’s no real way of properly predicting the winner of this category, and whoever gets nominated could completely change the shape of voting in the category. It’ll all come down to whoever appears in the nominations tomorrow (Monday 13th January), but it’s likely that the leads in the race for this year’s Best Leading Actor Oscar will remain Adam Driver and Joaquin Phoenix. Two very different performances that both have immense weight as to why they could win. Both almost seem to be pure Oscar-bait. And only one can win.
Of course it needs to be remembered that at the time of writing this the nominations are yet to be announced. But, if I were to say there was one leader that could make it to the big win on Sunday 9th February (Monday 10th when it comes to UK time, when the broadcast starts at around 1:00AM) I would say that Adam Driver just has the edge on Joaquin Phoenix. This view could completely change as the Oscar race takes form and the big night of awards season gets ever closer. However, for the moment, the day before nominations are announced, I would say that Adam Driver in Marriage Story lies more within the camp that Oscar voters are potentially likely to go for than Joaquin Phoenix in Joker.
Partly down to the emotional nature of the performance, the natural state of it and the fact that it’s a realistic performance where the emotion of the character can be ‘seen’ over a more unconventional comic-book adaptation, despite the strong physical performance and dive into crime and mental decline that Oscar voters clearly love. Especially with the themes that the film deals with and the general mannerisms of Arthur Fleck at the centre of Joker. But, Marriage Story represents a figure that can be more easily identified with and understood on a realistic level. However, for Phoenix to bring to life such a twisted and warped character and make them believable that’s possibly a more amazing feat, and therefore a sign of a better performance, something which the acting branch may recognise and want to reward, knowing how difficult that is to do. The acting branch is the biggest branch of the voting members of the Academy and therefore their impact on the winners of many categories, especially in the acting categories where they likely have a vast effect. So, Joaquin Phoenix could end up winning with ease, this is, as with most categories every year, a truly unpredictable race. And again, this pair might not be the real leads in the race, or it could be even or between more names.
But, for the time being as the race is only just going to properly begin from tomorrow, I would say that the award would currently go to Adam Driver in Marriage Story.
Update (13th January, just after the announcement of the nominees): With the nominations having been announced (Antonio Banderas (Pain And Glory), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), Adam Driver (Marriage Story), Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)) it appears that the main competition is still between Phoenix and Driver. Banderas and Pryce seem to be the slight outsiders, and DiCaprio could be the quiet threat, after all actors playing actors are often highly commended by Academy voters. However, with the current record of the core two at the centre of the race at other awards ceremonies this season there looks to have been little change to the way the competition stands. Meaning that my money, if I were to bet, would currently still be on Adam Driver to win this year’s Best Leading Actor award.
Update 2 (3rd February, 6 days before the Oscars): In this year’s awards season competition it’s impossible to ignore Joaquin Phoenix’s winning streak at guild awards, specifically the Screen Actors Guild Awards (the acting branch being the biggest out of all Academy voting branches, and the SAG winner matching with the Oscar winner 9 out of 10 times – the Guild decided to award Denzel Washington the award for Fences in 2017 while the Academy gave Casey Affleck the prize for his turn in Manchester By The Sea). Add to this his success at various other awards ceremonies it seems that this year’s Best Leading Actor Oscar is the Joker star’s to lose. While it may have initially seemed as if this award was a two horse race that doesn’t quite seem to be the case anymore. In fact it seems as if all the acting categories are locked in. Laura Dern (Marriage Story) for Supporting Actress, Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood) for Supporting Actor, Renée Zellweger (Judy) for Leading Actress and, of course, Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) for Leading Actor.
You voted and finally the results are here! You the audience have chosen from every film released in 2019 (UK release date) and have chosen your top ten films of the year. It was very close for much of the voting period; at one point it could have been any of the top six. However, one film came out on top with a lead that was almost double the amount of votes received by the second place film. And so here are the films that you, the listeners, readers, consumers, visitors, general audience, etc of Just A Little Bit Random, said were the best of 2019!
Reports said that Booksmart wasn’t a huge box office success. However, when earning over $24 million worldwide on a $6 million budget the numbers were still pretty solid. The critically acclaimed high-school comedy, marking the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, was clearly equally received by audiences, especially amongst big-budget blockbusters such as Aladdin and Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, and big films such as Rocketman and The Secret Life Of Pets 2 released around the same time. It’s likely that many connected with Booksmart’s exaggerated characters. While being exaggerated and somewhat hyperbolic most of the characters remain somewhat realistic, recognisable as people that we may very well know, or once knew during schooldays. Booksmart has clearly had strong word of mouth, and this might be part of why the numbers were solid against initially poor speculation of poor box office predictions. It’s very likely that this will soon become a high-school movie classic, shared between friends of a similar age to the characters, and likely audiences of all kinds. And judging by the fact that you’ve made it your 10th best film of the year that may very well be the case.
Bait is one of those rare small independent British films that’s given a highly limited release and absolutely storms the box office! In fact it was one of the most successful films of the year in the UK, playing at some locations for over two months, an even bigger rarity for a film such as this. Audiences were just as impressed by critics by this unique gem. Filmed on 16mm film with a monochrome look and with sound re-recorded over the footage this is a film like no other released in 2019. In fact at a number of locations this was one of the biggest and most popular films of the year – including Watershed in Bristol where the film was brought back in December for another run due to its immense popularity and acclaim. Something which has clearly been echoed across the country with it becoming the most successful Cornish film ever grossing almost £600,000 at the UK box office. Not only were you taken in by the atmosphere and the style of Bait it seems you were equally hooked (pun intended) by its plot surrounding Cornish fishermen and locals putting up with the stresses of increased tourism and gentrification in the area. As a whole the film was praised by many as an artistic masterpiece in almost every respect, and it seems this has been agreed with by the voting audience; having made it the 9th best film of the year.
8. Apollo 11
Apollo 11 was another unique film from the last year. A documentary with no interviews, no talking heads, no narration or voiceover, simply restored footage from 50 years ago put into the correct order of events to tell a narrative story. That story being the one of the moon landing. Showing never before seen footage from inside the shuttle and the space centre – giving insight into the tensions of both those going to the moon and making sure things went right back on Earth – audiences were taken in by this film and felt as if they were actually in the same situation as the people who went to the moon 50 years ago. Carrying on the proof that films like Free Solo provided that documentaries can work on the big screen Apollo 11 also went on to earn over £1,000,000 at the UK box office, a rarity for a documentary. Although a number of recent films have made this less so and are showing the popularity of non-fiction features on the big screen. Apollo 11 especially as it stuck around in cinemas for a number of weeks, and eventually gained a gradually wider release due to the high demand from audiences who embraced and showed love for the film, making it something of a word of mouth success.
7. Fisherman’s Friends
It appears that Cornish tales were popular amongst those who voted as another Cornish tale finds its way into the audiences top ten films of the year. This one being the shanty-singing underdog story Fisherman’s Friends. Based on the story of the Port Isaac singing group of the same name and the man who got them signed up for a record deal despite a lack of interest or people taking them seriously the group went on to have chart success, as many people will know. Audiences seemed to enjoy this tale of traditional shanty singers and their attempt to get an album in the charts through a seemingly impossible record deal – after all they only enjoy singing in the local port on the side of fishing, who wants to hear dirty old-fashioned shanties on popular radio? With its friendly ‘laughing with them’ style of humour and heart the film brought in large audiences who welcomed it making it a steady hit over the weeks that it was in cinemas. Drawing in large audiences in multiple screens and lasting a healthy amount of weeks to go on to gross almost £10,000,000. Heart and humour were clearly what people were looking for, and was appreciated by audiences, evident from its placement on this list.
6. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Where were Marvel to go after the huge events of Avengers: Endgame? What could they do after the impact that it had? And how could they bring in people who were worried about Marvel fatigue, especially after Endgame? Well apparently Spider-Man: Far From Home was the answer. With it’s spectacular and creative use of CGI during a number of key scenes, and equally great action to match it Far From Home wasn’t quite a palate cleanser like the Ant-Man films have been after large Avengers outing, but it did help to bring Marvel’s Infinity Saga to a fine close. Audiences were brought in with intrigue to see how Marvel were going to deal with the close of Endgame, where they were going to go and what would happen next after such a monumental cinematic storyline, how could it come to an even finer close? By focusing on Spider-Man of course. Already a fan-favourite character Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, arguably the best iteration of the character, was seemingly the best way to have an emotional send-off and review of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we’ve known it. Being it’s own film while also a slight victory lap of the previous 11 years and 22 films audiences were taken in by it. Both for the continuing and individual story but also for the action, character, look-back and atmosphere of what might be to come in the next phase, and potentially saga of Marvel’s grand plan. And it looks as if things will be just fine seeing as many of you placed this above Avengers: Endgame as your best film of the year, leading it to be the audience’s sixth best film of the year.
In 2018 you named Bohemian Rhapsody your film of the year, this year you place fellow musical biopic Rocketman as the fifth best. However, Rocketman is a very, very different film to Bohemian Rhapsody. First of all Rocketman is a full-on musical, using the songs of Elton John to progress the narrative and highlight character’s feelings as they casually burst into song to express them. The label of “a true fantasy” was taken and ran with in this wonderfully creative biopic. Showing John in rehab looking back at his life, delve into drug and alcohol addiction, and discovering his sexuality amongst tense and distant relationships with his family and manager, Taron Egerton is superb in the leading role. He might not look or sound exactly like the figure he’s playing but that adds to the element of fantasy, showing John looking back at a more ideal version of himself, perhaps, amongst an honest portrayal of his life. An honest portrayal that was certainly not watered down, showed the facts, the impacts and the extent of the struggles with addiction. Cinemagoers were evidently transported and transfixed by this unique depiction, through the fantastical musical format and enjoyed this take on the musical biopic – director Dexter Fletcher has previous experience with crowd-pleasing musical Sunshine On Leith, and also worked on the reshoots and final work on Bohemian Rhapsody (although uncredited). And so it seems you continue your enjoyment of his work by placing it high on your list of the best films of 2019.
4. Frozen II
Frozen was a global hit, there’s no denying that, the soundtrack even more so. With many of the songs being blared on repeat, especially Let It Go which went from earworm to infectious repeating pain for many people, especially for those with kids, or living near kids, or fans of the soundtrack, or anywhere really. It’s rare for Disney to make a cinematically released sequel, especially one to a Disney Princess film, however with the success that Frozen had (having been the most successful animated film of all time) there’s no surprise that Disney decided to make a theatrically released sequel. Making a cinematically released follow-up to a Disney Princess film is, in fact, something that the studio has never done before, so in many ways they were venturing into the unknown (again, pun intended). And it appears that they didn’t disappoint. Taking a look more at the past and mythology of the characters and the kingdom that they live in viewers were transported to an even more fantastical world than they witnessed in the first film, and it appears that the writers and creators didn’t overdo it with this sequel which a number of you have held just as close as the first film. The soundtrack seems to have also been well-received, with Into The Unknown being labelled as this film’s Let It Go anthem, although Show Yourself is arguably the better song, and the best song on the soundtrack. And with a well-received original soundtrack often comes an equally happily embraced film, and with the success that Frozen II has experienced so far, breaking records and at time of writing coming close to potentially outdoing the first film’s box office, the reception has clearly been rather warm from viewers young and old, enjoying the further development of some of their favourite characters of the last few years. With the love going as far as you putting it just outside your top three films of the year.
3. Knives Out
If there’s one thing to take away from this list it’s the clear love and demand for original films. And Knives Out is about as original as they can come. All across the world audiences have been captivated by Rian Johnson’s deliciously clever and original murder-mystery filled with an A-list cast who are all clearly having great fun making this film. None more so than Daniel Craig as detective Benoit Blanc, a fittingly Agatha Christie style name for a story that appears to be very much inspired by her and many other classic crime writers, alongside films such as Clue. People love a guessing game like this, one that keeps them on their toes with edge-of-your-seat tension throughout as the answer never quite becomes clearer until the phenomenally clever reveal. Knives Out holds all of this, the viewer constantly guessing and double-guessing themselves and the film, thoughts rushing through their minds while still being able to enjoy the pure entertainment factor of the film, and the occasional laughs that it provides; helped by the overflowing amount of detail that it holds. All these elements creating a deeply unique, original and irresistible murder-mystery guessing game of the best kind. Something which voters have agreed with, showing a further appreciation of 2019’s range of original films by placing this as their third best film of the year.
Every generation has its Fight Club. Or perhaps in the case of Joker the better comparison would be every generation has its Taxi Driver. The influences of Martin Scorsese are heavily evident within Joker, Scorsese himself was at one point a producer on the film before dropping out shortly after the announcement. A film that receives large amounts of praise despite fear that it could cause violence, or somehow be dangerous, alongside a number of negative views. However, the mass consensus of Joker seems to be that it’s one of the best films of the year, and it even seems to be on the way to a potential Best Picture nomination. Not just a conventional comic-book adaptation many have praised the film for its depiction of the madness of the central character, as he gradually becomes the clown prince of crime known as The Joker. The central character, Arthur Fleck, being portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, who is being heavily tipped for a considerable amount of awards nominations for his role in this film, with a performance that many have praised for all its twisted glory. Joker is bold, unique and another step forward in the world of comic-book adaptations, offering a new alternative to the standard big-budget superhero blockbuster that we’ve become accustomed to. It’s financial success and broken records agrees with this, being one of the most profitable films not just of the year but of all time, and also becoming the first R (America’s loose and somewhat questionable 15 rating – something for another time) rated film to gross a billion dollars at the box office. And with it’s unique style, look at insane mentality and what some see as references to modern society the film was praised and loved by many, being a huge box office and reception-wise success, and one of the biggest films of the year in many different respects. Reflected by the fact that you’ve given in the silver award in this year’s poll.
1 . Avengers: Endgame
The biggest film of the year is also your best film of the year. That’s right Marvel’s landscape-changing Avengers: Endgame is the Just A Little Bit Random audience’s best film of 2019! After 11 years and 22 films Endgame not only worked as part of a wider franchise, completing a long fan-invested story, but also worked as it’s own fantastic standalone feature. Marking not only a cinematic first but possibly a unique moment that may not be witnessed for a number of years, and potentially not even to the extent of Endgame. Possibly the best comparison is to Return Of The King. What makes Endgame work so well is the way that it continues the trend of realistic superhero characters. Characters who are flawed and have imperfections. In fact Empire Magazines Editor-In-Chief Terri White perhaps put it best during an interview on Radio 4’s Today Programme, saying that these characters demonstrated “incredible spectacle, incredible characterisation. Emotional beats. Comedic beats… They’re complex, they’re flawed, and that’s what makes them so brilliant, and that’s what makes their stories really, really interesting”. This connection proved by the success of Endgame. We wanted to see what happened to our favourite characters that we’ve grown to love and recognise over the previous 11 years. With the stakes higher than ever before and great uncertainty as to the fate of such figures audiences were immersed in a tense, epic, action-packed, tragicomedy of the greatest of proportions. And it did not let us down. Evidently so, as you’ve overwhelmingly made it your best film of 2019, with more than double the votes of the second place film! Rather fitting for a cinematic spectacle like no other.
2019 was the year that started with the heights of the heavily Oscar nominated The Favourite and somehow ended with Cats (and Playing with Fire and Spies In Disguise), but we did also ended the year with Little Women. In-between all that we’ve experienced the culmination of some of the biggest film series and sagas of all time, or at least as we know them for the moment. The continued rise of strong female directors and stories, through the likes of Olivia Wilde’s hilarious Booksmart, Lulu Wang’s wonderfully personal The Farewell, Greta Gerwig’s passionate and joyous take on Little Women and even the blockbuster heights of Captain Marvel.
Alongside all of this we were swept away into musical worlds such as Rocketman, Wild Rose, Blinded By The Light, Yesterday and Frozen II. A number of which continuing the popularity of musical biopics of plots centring around the music of specific artists – which, to an extent, Jim Cummings’ tragically funny Thunder Road took a similar angle, although with one specific song.
And while sequels and remakes continued to be pushed out by the studios (this year saw three different Disney remakes released in the UK – which at this moment in time doesn’t have Disney+ – alone) original films still managed to dominate at the box office, proving claims that they’re slowly dying wrong. Rian Johnson captivated us with his deliciously tense Knives Out, we were welcomed into the warm joy of a caring restaurant family in Support The Girls and the complete and utter 147 minutes of pure dread and discomfort that is Ari Aster’s Midsommar – continuing the rapid rise of the varied force of nature that is Florence Pugh, alongside fellow 2019 releases Fighting With My Family and Little Women.
British films have also shown great strength in this last year. Joe Cornish’s follow-up to 2011’s Attack The Block, The Kid Who Would Be King, his fantastical Arthurian adventure filled with adventure to create what was for some a rather nostalgic feeling calling back to classic Amblin features of the 80’s. We were delighted by the pure innocent hilarity of A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon and were simply fascinated and drawn into quiet hits such as Bait and The Souvenir
All in all 2019 has been a great year for film! Looking back I can’t think of many films that stand out as truly terrible or just bad. The majority of films this year I rather liked, and the quality of filmmaking is clearly getting better, therefore making it an even more difficult task to whittle down the best film of the last 12 months to a list of the ten best. And finally, after an intro that is far too long and waffly, here is my personal top ten best films of 2019!
10. Eighth Grade
In the past films made by famous YouTube personalities haven’t gone down very well, just take the woeful drivel that is Smosh: The Movie. However, most of these films have been released directly onto YouTube or some other part of the internet. However, comedian Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is truly something vastly different.
Burnham’s career started out on YouTube, and since beginning he has gathered hundreds of millions of views with the comedic songs and routines that he’s become known for. And it’s evident from Eighth Grade that every ounce of passion and care that he puts into his comedy work has been equally put into this wonderfully thoughtful and tender film.
But, in many ways Eighth Grade wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for Elsie Fisher’s magnificent performance as central character Kayla. Kayla is every quiet, awkward person sat at the back of the classroom wanting to be heard but not sure as to what exactly they want to say, or how to phrase it – a feeling enhanced by the fact that this film is set at one of the most weird and confusing times of anyone’s life. It’s honest, genuine and heartfelt, connecting not just with people of a similar age, but with absolutely anyone, even if people end up connecting with Josh Hamilton’s quietly brilliant role of Kayla’s father.
Amongst all of this this is very much a time capsule for what may just even be this year. Featuring references and memes that kids in eighth grade/ year eight will be particularly aware of, but in many ways this adds to the authenticity of the film, making it feel more real and therefore increasing the connection, and thus emotional impact, that the film has. Everything combining to create an enjoyable, emotional, and not forgetting funny, film that brings the viewer in to connect with a likeable main character, familiar situations and the overall celebration of awkwardness that the film creates. It’s a somewhat different film to Olivia Wilde’s highly hilarious Booksmart, set towards the end of school life, as characters prepare to move on to college, however the two work rather well in a double bill of the school outsiders and the honest personalities that can be found during it – even if Booksmart’s characters are slightly more exaggerated at times.
9. A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
The phrase “laugh a minute” is definitely overused nowadays, and a lot of the time is often not quite meant, or seems exaggerated. However, in the case of A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (or just Farmageddon for short) this is the truth. Aardman’s latest stop-motion offering is from start to finish a pure delight. A genuine laugh out loud every single minute – sometimes multiple times a minute – treat that can easily entertain people of all ages.
As with the first Shaun The Sheep film, and indeed the short TV episodes, there is no speech at any point in the film, all gags are simply visual, mixed with a series of grunts, baas, sound effects and gibberish noises. Whether appearing on newspapers, “win your weight in muck” being a prominent magazine feature, or simply an alien gorging on sweets and multi-coloured fizzy drinks and are likely overflowing with e-numbers leading to an earth-shaking belch there’s a great deal packed into this film. All brought to life through the medium of highly-detailed stop-motion animation.
Alongside such detail Farmageddon’s also features a wide range of humorous sci-fi references. From Close Encounters and E.T. to Doctor Who and The X Files each one never shouts at the audience, nudging them to recognise the reference, they’re simply there because the filmmakers like the sci-fi genre and want to pay homage to it, and show their love in this way. And that comes across and works, as it did with the horror genre back in 2005 when Wallace And Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit was released. Everything simply comes together to create a fantastically animated, highly detailed and overall hilarious film. Nothing too extravagant and certainly not something that tries to be anything more than a very funny, delightfully charming film.
When it comes to musical biopics Rocketman really is something else. Billed as “a true fantasy” it takes that and runs with it. Director Dexter Fletcher – whose musical credits include Sunshine On Leith and finishing off last year’s crowdpleaser Bohemian Rhapsody – doesn’t just make your conventional biopic of a singer/ musician, he makes a full on musical. One filled with fantastical elements that help to bring the viewer into a deeply visual and clearly thought-through and laid-out world.
Taron Egerton is truly phenomenal as Elton John, truly encapsulating a damaged figure dealing with the impact of fame, a distanced family life, childhood and the alcohol and drug abuse that it seems to all bring. Alongside this he can, as proven, actually sing very well – as would be expected from a musical and biopic about a famous singer. He, alongside the rest of the cast; including Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard and Richard Madden, accompany the re-working of a number of John’s songs to add to the power and emotion of the piece, the rendition of I Want Love being utterly heart-wrenching. One of the interesting choices about the music is to not just go along the lines of all of John’s hits and most well known songs. The likes of Candle In The Wind, I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues and Sad Songs (Say So Much) are only heard in brief snippets, and not quite in the same way as Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury playing the same notes of Bohemian Rhapsody saying ‘I could make something with this’ in the film of the same name – which I do admit to liking.
Egerton doesn’t look like Elton John, although the hair and make-up department does help, and his singing isn’t very much like his either, however these elements all add to the fantasy nature of the film. Elton John, in rehab, looking back on his life. While he’s honest he still wants to see an ideal, Egerton is John thinking of himself as looking that way, all increasing the effect and general nature of the film. It’s easy to be swept up in it all and taken on a truly magnificent, fantastically designed (in terms of set, costumes and general look and feel of the piece) journey of rises and falls. Never once feeling cliche or as if we’ve seen it before. This is a truly unique piece of cinema that truly and effectively catches the viewers emotion, guides them through the fast-flowing run-time and definitely leaves its mark. A fine achievement and a truly brilliant piece of spectacularly enthralling cinema.
7. Apollo 11
Apollo 11 continues the trend of proof that documentaries can work on the big screen! Following on from 2018’s Free Solo, and Three Identical Strangers, both fuelled by a big-screen and audience experience Apollo 11 was another documentary to earn more than £1 million at the UK box office, something of a rarity, especially with an (allegedly) often big-budget blockbuster dominated market.
Taking restored, previously unreleased 70mm footage, edited down from over 11,000 hours of footage, from the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, both inside the shuttle and the space centre itself, the film tracks the events that led to the monumental event, and the journey home. What makes the film all the more intriguing is its lack of interviews, narration or anything but footage and audio from the time. Bringing the viewer into the world, experiencing everything as it happens; as if hearing about these events for the first time. During a number of key moments there’s genuine tension as you forget everything but what’s happening on-screen, worrying for the figures in the ship, despite the fact you know they survive. All this being down to the fantastic use of pacing and editing throughout the film. Always keeping the viewer’s interest and engagement with the piece.
From start to finish there’s something almost indescribably captivating about the film. Making the most of the big screen to truly enhance the impact that the film has on the viewing audience. An audience that sits there in true astonishment at the achievement they are watching unfold as if for the very first time. A number of points filled with edge-of-your-seat breathless tension that only adds to the whole experience. When thinking about it there aren’t many other documentaries like this, or at least not that come to mind anyway. Apollo 11 is a truly unique film, alongside an experience unlike any other. A fantastically constructed, narrative documentary that makes you forget everything you knew just to rebuild your memory in the best way possible. Adding new pieces of information, showing the tension and worry for those behind the desks on Earth and far more. And what makes it even more rewarding is that even on repeat viewings it works just as well as it did the first time. I rather stunning achievement.
6. The Kindergarten Teacher
Another film on this list that works just as well with repeat viewings as it did on the initial viewing, if not better. The Kindergarten Teacher is almost a completely different film every time you see it, raising many questions and leaving them open for the viewer to answer. Each one revolving around the truly superb, and occasionally terrifying central performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal who truly dominates the entire film.
Gyllenhaal is the titular Kindergarten teacher, an aspiring poet who seems to be getting nowhere in the night classes that she attends, put down by her teacher and fellow students. However, things change when a child in her class begins to recite original poems that inspire a burst of creativity within her, and nothing but praise from everyone else. Gyllenhaal’s Lisa soon grows something close to an obsession with this talented child (wonderfully performed by Parker Sevak) and begins to take him to poetry recitals, unknowingly to his parents – who she somehow gains the trust of, adding to the overall eerie nature of her actions.
Throughout the often tense and intriguing course of the run-time a number of questions are raised, both by the film and the viewer. Is Lisa simply imagining everything, or overestimating the talent of her pupil, or is the praise all faked? Is everything that happens simply an excuse for how she’s faltering in her own poetry? Does Jimmy (Savek) take the form of her ideal family lifestyle, due to her own being somewhat distant a tense, with teenagers that seem to do nothing but disappoint her? Alongside many others. No matter how outlandish some may view the events of the film, especially in the third act, there’s no denying that everything remains grounded and real. Creating a faster pace as everything becomes more and more manic and desperate for Lisa. Everything culminating in a tense, terrifying, potentially distressing thriller plunging the viewer into the world, trying to understand the mindset of the lead character and never once letting go or loosening the tight grip on the viewer. An overall magnificent concoction of themes and ideas creating one of the most dizzying and enthralling pieces of cinema this year.
5. At Eternity’s Gate
Willem Dafoe is phenomenal! Okay, we already know that, but he outdoes himself more than ever before as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eterntiy’s Gate. To date it’s undeniably one of his best performances, if not his best. Dafoe rightly earned a Best Leading Actor Oscar nomination for his role in this film and while he was probably the least likely to win he was one of the most deserving. Giving a performance that not only shines brightly throughout the entire film but works so well with the supporting cast, including the likes of Oscar Isaac, Rupert Friend, Mads Mikkelsen and Mathieu Amalric, that he lifts them further up and allows them to shine, while increasing the depth of his own performance. All through the small subtleties of his facial expressions, tone of voice and near descent into madness as the world rejects the paintings of his character.
While depicting a struggle to make it in the world and constantly being brought down by those around the main character there is much of At Eternity’s Gate which is very much calm and reflective. A large proportion of the run-time is spent in near silence as the increasingly stressed and enraged central figure staggers through the various landscapes that he paints in. Fulled further by the fantastic cinematography that helps to make each frame of the film look like one of Van Gogh’s paintings, most of the time such moments of extended trudging and silence simply leave the viewer in awe at what they’re seeing. The fact that it works making it all the better and simply more engaging. Somehow adding an extra layer to the whole piece and bringing the viewer further into the world.
There’s no denying that this is potentially a somewhat niche film. One that some might possibly refer to as ‘arty’, or rather an arthouse film. It’s style and to an extent lack of plot, apart from telling of the last few years of Vincent Van Gogh, could turn some people away. But, I encourage as many people as possible to seek this film out and give it a try. Because for me it’s a genuine, emotional, deeply artistic film that’s not only wonderful to look at but flows equally well and has an absolutely sensational leading performance from Willem Dafoe! One of 2019’s most underseen and underthought of gems.
4. Marriage Story
After initial festival viewings Marriage Story was referred to as the modern Kramer Vs Kramer. And in a number of ways it is. However, while Kramer Vs Kramer focuses on the relationship between a father and son, leaving the legal matters until towards the end of the film, Marriage Story focuses on the legal process and the toll that it takes on both parents.
The two central figures being fantastically performed by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Both of whom are equally observed by the film and bring to life Noah Baumbach’s highly naturalistic screenplay with Oscar worthy performance. It’s highly likely that the pair will receive Oscar nods for their performances and Driver is currently, deservedly, a front-runner to win the Best Leading Actor award (both alongside a very funny Laura Dern as Nora, the lawyer of Johansson’s character). His much shared rendition of Sondheim’s Being Alive being a true emotional highlight of the film.
Emotion being something that flows throughout the film. Amongst all of the natural humour that the piece holds the emotion is always present. In fact one of the funniest scenes of the film, depicting Driver’s father figure trying to prove to a child services representative that he is capable of looking after his son, is also one of the most tragic and heartbreaking moments. Marriage Story is a film that is filled with raw heartbreak, cutting into the viewer with its natural style, all brought about by strong performances throughout, humour and most of all Noah Baumbach’s script and direction.
When mixed with Randy Newman’s sparingly used score, adding to the effect of a number of scenes while also allowing for the impact of silence in others, the finished product is a fantastic blend of heartbreak, emotion, humour and naturalism. The viewer is guided through the story, led to care about both characters during the hostile time that they go through, as it seems both turn increasingly against each other than before, fuelled by their lawyers and those around them. Led by two dominating lead performances that powerfully bring to life Noah Baumbach’s natural screenplay this is a fantastically made, funny, emotional, contemporary divorce drama. While it can be said that this is a modern Kramer Vs Kramer it is far, far much more than just that.
3. Knives Out
“A whodunnit like no one’s ever done it” ran the tagline for much of the advertising for this film. There are two ways to view this tagline. Firstly, the one that accompanies the other tagline, “Hell, any of them could have done it”. This is a film that first time around is impossible to work out. A murder-mystery where literally any member of the large A-list cast – all of whom are clearly having a great deal of fun making this film – could have done the murder. The other view of the initial tagline is the fact that this is a fresh, unique and deliciously original film. Bringing about an overflowing sense of entertainment from start to finish, pushed further by the immense amount of detail that’s packed into the film, whether it be within the plot or simply in the wonderful sets in a large home described by Lakeith Stanfield’s Lieutenant Elliott as “a Clue board”.
Rian Johnson’s screenplay is nothing but superb. Gloriously detailed and filled with twists and turns that keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. On a number of occasions you genuinely finds yourself leaning in to the screen just so that you can be more involved in the film, and feel even more a part of the world. Trying to get to know even more about the already unique characters. Each with their own personalities and backgrounds that are understood by the viewer, and given time to shine. As already mentioned the cast are clearly having a great deal of fun making this film. However, none more so than Daniel Craig in the role of Detective Benoit Blanc. A suave, charming and somewhat Christie inspired character who at some points, despite his skills, you begin to worry he might not even be able to guess the killer.
Throughout the humour, tension, thrills and pure joy and entertainment factor of the film there’s a great deal of intrigue and constant guessing from the viewer. Double-guessing themselves and the film, constantly wondering if the film is actually ahead of them or not, and sometimes simply having no choice but to be on the same wavelength as it. And this isn’t a film that only works the once. There’s so much that you miss the first, and even second and possibly third viewing, that you have to go back to see what you missed. And every time it’s just as enjoyable, just as entertaining, enthralling and so much more, as it was the first time. A true modern classic that will surely go on to become a murder-mystery feature staple that’ll stay around for many years to come. All stemming from a fantastic sense of original mystery and intrigue in Rian Johnson’s genuinely brilliant screenplay.
2. The Favourite
Olivia Colman won an Oscar for her role in this film. Need I say more? Colman’s speech will likely go down as one of the best Oscar speeches of all time, alongside one of the funniest. And it was a surprise win, many expected Glenn Close to win for her role in The Wife – especially as this was her seventh nomination – albeit one that was very deserved.
Colman is absolutely fantastic as the shouty, spoilt, commanding Queen Anne. With strong support from her, arguably more leading, co-stars Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. The three actors have a brilliantly strong chemistry together and help to bring to life the unique and offbeat screenplay for this effective period black comedy-drama. Every single element appears to have been meticulously attended to to create the most authentic and engaging feature possible. From the excellent cinematography and detailed set and costume design to the strong screenplay filled with twists and turns between maliciously conniving characters.
All this fuelling the black comedy and at times equally dark drama of the piece. Everything combines to create something highly atmospheric, enjoyable and that the audience can’t help but devour as much as Queen Anne does cake. When enhanced by the direction of Yorgos Lanthimos this is a wonderfully unique film that on the surface is about conflict between two people craving power and three wanting attention, but is also one about people’s insecurities, pain, desires and attempts at coping. All told through a lavish looking film overflowing with detail and not forgetting some strong humour and equally brilliant performances from the central trio.
1 . Avengers: Endgame
22 films and 11 years built up to this monumental cinematic event. Nothing has ever quite been done like this before and Marvel didn’t let us down! Endgame as a whole is a cinematic achievement, and it finishes the overarching story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in glorious style. Yes, there is a fair deal of fan-service and people unaware of most other Marvel films are probably very likely to be confused as to what’s happening. However, for those aware of the universe and have followed it there’s a great deal to enjoy within the film. Not just showing old locations for the sake of nostalgia but managing to incorporate them into the story for full effect and entertainment value.
Aside from the wider universe Endgame is still pretty much perfect as its own individual film. Marvel haven’t just stuck to the same feeling for each of their films, they’ve shown a variety of genres; and Endgame is very much their tragi-comedy. Filled with great humour throughout to help keep things somewhat light, but never distracting from the tragic tone that lies throughout. Tragic because of the events that led to this film, but also from the characters themselves. The lives that they’re living at the start of the film due to what happened at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, and simply where the film leads them during a number of pivotal moments. There’s a great deal to enjoy within Endgame that keeps the viewer within the intricately constructed set-pieces and plot and the detailed characters.
Characters who we have gotten to know over the last decade and we aren’t let down by them in this film. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors Joe and Anthony Russo do a great job of balancing the characters, giving them enough screen-time to feel present and known and to have a true impact in the spectacular final battle. All culminating in a film that feels reminiscent of Return Of The King – and very much feels like the equivalent of this film for a new generation.
Working as part of a wider universe as well as its own singular tragi-comedy feature there is a fine balance in Avengers: Endgame. Having a great impact on the viewer, as well as a defining one on the cinematic landscape, we may never quite see anything like it for a long time and maybe that’s a good thing. There’s a chance that Endgame could have gone very wrong, however thanks to the care that’s clearly been put into making it, from the entire cast and crew, it’s done far more than just work. It’s a magnificent era-defining close (ish) to a series alongside just being a generally brilliant, action-packed film with an absolute belter of a final battle – set to Alan Silvestri’s magnificent score, especially the track Portals. All in all it’s a real marvel (no pun intended) and is undoubtedly, for me anyway, the best film of 2019!
Release date – 6th November, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 17 minutes, Director – Phillip Youmans
A Mother (Karen Kaia Livers) tries to deal with the impact that alcohol is having on both her son (Dominique McClellan) and the priest (Wendell Pierce) of the church that she attends
There are many things that are likely to slowly pace around your mind when you finish watching Burning Cane. However, for me, the main thing that came to mind as I reflected on the previous 77 minutes was the fact that this micro-budget, highly personal and considerate film, was written and directed by a 19 year old. In his directorial debut Phillip Youmans takes inspiration from his own Baptist childhood in the south of America. Through the use of extended close-up’s, monologues and the effect of silence Youmans manages to create a deeply personal, yet engaging, piece that brings the viewer in for a calm and peaceful, yet vocal, feature.
While we don’t specifically follow one character during the short 77 minute run-time of the piece there are three main figures that we see trying to make their way through difficult times. The first is Helen (Karen Kaia Livers) a mother who tries to stick as closely to her Baptist beliefs as she can, no matter how bad things get for her. In the films opening she describes how her dog is getting old and ill. While many claim that it should be put down, or even shot between the eyes, she believes that there’s still hope that it could make it through its illness. However, it seems that where her hope does dwindle is when it comes to her son, Daniel (Dominique McClellan). Daniel is unemployed and doesn’t seem to be putting much effort into doing anything about it. Instead he spends his time slumped on the sofa drinking the day away, ignoring his own son, Jeremiah (Braelyn Kelly), or getting angry over almost nothing. Therefore causing tensions within the family.
The third figure that we see also has an issue with alcohol, having turned to it after the death of his wife. Wendell Pierce’s Reverend Tillman is possibly the most captivating figure of the film. Through his monologues and church sermons he easily gives the most powerful and passionate performance of the entire film, in a film that is filled with a number of strong performances, from a relatively small cast. Tillman struggles with controlling his alcohol consumption, despite Helen trying to help him and making sure that he’s alright he continues to drink, almost beginning to cause trouble during his own church services.
Throughout the film there is very little music played during each scene. The use of silence, while at some points becoming almost haunting, helps to create a much more natural feel that brings the viewer into a world filled with flawed characters, and in many ways one that we therefore recognise. This is an honest portrayal of the lives of many people. Struggling, feeling helpless. Trying to help those around them even though they can’t seem to, or don’t know how to, help themselves. The long monologues that characters get showing this. Not speaking to others, or the bedroom or bathroom mirror (where they can possibly get even five seconds of privacy away from their demons), simply the thoughts that go round their heads spoken aloud for the audience to hear. Thus creating that further personal feel. Not just for Youmans, but for the characters too, and for the audience watching the film.
There’s very little plot to the film, more a selection of loosely connected ideas. However, they are basic ideas that gradually become increasingly detailed as we learn more and more about each individual figure that we see. Feeling for them, feeling scared for them as the minimalistic detail of the cornfield scenery – constantly stretching for miles and miles, almost creating a feeling of entrapment – compliments the immense detail of characters. Some of which we begin to worry for, and possibly feel a slight sense of fear for as they find themselves of even greater struggle of conflict with themselves, those around them and most importantly their morals and beliefs.
There’s no denying the impact and effect that Burning Cane has. While it can seem slow and ponderous at times it has a lot to say. Youmans clearly pours all his passion and energy into this thoughtful and deeply detailed piece. Bringing the audience in and allowing them to feel a part of the film, and connect with the characters, whether for better or worse. It all adds to the effect that the film has. Not knowing where it will go, taking it’s time and making sure to slowly guide the viewer along with it. It’s truly something rather unique and special.
Burning Cane is in a number of ways an achievement in itself, not just because it was written and directed by a 19 year old, Wendell Pierce’s roaring performance being one of them. Everything comes together to create a detailed, engaging and thoughtful piece about people being caught up in the middle of a war between their morals and their demons. It might seem slow at times, but overall this is an interesting and worthwhile watch.
Release date – N/A, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 50 minutes, Director – Kirill Mikhanovsky
A coach driver (Chris Galust) working for a firm that transports people with disabilities puts his job at risk when he finds himself taking a group of pensioners to a funeral, taking other passengers along with them.
Vic (Chris Galust) is a coach driver for a firm that helps to transport people with many different forms of disability. He has his regulars that he knows well and manages to calmly get them to where they need to be on time and with relative ease. However, with this being advertised, and described by many, as a “madcap comedy” of course there has to be more than just this. On a day when Vic already finds himself running late, and having to deal with his grandfather, causing havoc in their flat by almost causing a fire when making breakfast and smoking in bed, things become increasingly manic. It’s not long until Vic finds his vehicle filled with seniors demanding that they drive him to the funeral of an old friend – while paying passengers are still on board.
Through various wrong directions, chorus’ of traditional folk songs and Let My People Go on the accordion, alongside picking up a stranger claiming to be a Russian boxer and long-lost relative of the deceased (Maxim Stoyanov) “I’ll be there in 10” very quickly turns into something closer to ‘I’ll be there in 90’. And while going past, or near the stops of certain passengers, including Tracy (Lauren ‘Lolo’ Spencer) – a wheelchair user with ALS – Vic’s frustration goes as he tries to do everything he can to get these seniors off his vehicle so that he can carry on with his job, which is being put at increasing risk because of these endless detours.
We’ve seen such an idea done before in somewhat similar ways and in many ways Give Me Liberty is a basic idea made up of a series of events; becoming increasingly absurd as the piece goes on. Because of this there are times when the film feels more like a book, or a comedic short story, although still a rather funny one. There are many laugh-out-loud funny moments amongst the chaos of the ideas that the film throws in, some which admittedly can be seen coming but some that get so manic that they become so unpredictable you almost sit on the edge of your seat wondering how this moment could possibly get more out of hand. You just wish that almost the entire film could be like this. While the laughs still come the come-down from such scenes feels somewhat uncertain. As if the writers (director Mikhanovsky and Alice Austen) weren’t sure where to go after such frantic moments. Not wanting to continue the comedy as it was, needing a break so that things don’t get too much. Unfortunately the attempted calm-down feels slightly awkward, as if too much of a dramatic drop from comedy to padding until the next moment of attempted hilarity.
When it comes to the second half of the film things do begin to die down; taking a slightly more dramatic leaning. Beginning to look more at the life of Tracy rather than Vic. While the heart that the piece holds is still present the laughs not so much, and the feeling, while still working, to an extent, is still relatively good, holding an, if slightly different, enjoyable feel. However, there are moments where it almost feels as if you’re watching a different film, especially with the new, almost last minute, points and ideas that it seems there’s an attempt to introduce. While some just about take off their are others with not quite enough backing and context to allow them to work, therefore leaving them feeling rather cold, and potentially slightly confusing as the rush of the final 10-15 minutes closes in.
Despite the slightly awkward come-down’s from moments of strong humour and the more uncertain moments, especially in the closing minutes of the film, Give Me Liberty is a film that definitely has its heart in the right place; and it seems to know that. Filled with a lot of good humour, sometimes laugh out loud funny, helping to bring the viewer into the madcap, uncontrollable nature of the loose storyline, or rather selection of ideas. There’s enough there to keep the viewer just about entertained for 110 minutes, even if it could do with some cutting down to make it overall flow better.
Give Me Liberty is very much a mixed bag. While filled with some occasionally strong humour it also feels uncertain about where to go from there a number of times, especially when it comes to how to wrap the whole film up. However, there’s enough there over the course of the winding ideas that are presented to keep things light enough and with a decent enough flow to make the film overall enjoyable for a fair deal of the run-time.
The idea for the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar (there’s probably a much simpler title out there) is simple; a film each day in the build up to Christmas that isn’t your standard Christmas film. Not like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf or Die Hard (that’s an argument for another day, or year), but one that might be set at Christmas but the holiday isn’t a major factor in the story of the film, or it’s simply mentioned a couple of times and made reference to throughout.
As Christmas Eve arrives, along with the final day of this years alternative Christmas film advent calendar (never did find a better, more concise title), looking back on the films behind each doors there’s been a variety of features suggested so far. From the more mainstream and classic films to the lesser known and forgotten classics. And so, it only seems fitting that when we open today’s door the film waiting behind it is a modern superhero blockbuster. Specifically Iron Man 3.
Writer-director Shane Black has become known for inserting slight elements of Christmas into his films over the years. Having written the screenplay for festive classics such as Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang people began to wonder how the holiday would be used in 2013’s Iron Man 3 – the first Marvel film after 2012’s highly successful and bar-raising Avengers Assemble. And while Black does manage to get Christmas into the background of the film in many ways Iron Man 3 is far more of a Christmas film than it might initially seem. Many of its core themes and ideas hint towards a festive feature, even amongst all the standard blockbuster action and mystery around who the character of The Mandarin is. Plus, Marvel themselves have stated in recent days that the film is in fact a Christmas film.
The extent to which Iron Man 3 acts as a Christmas film can be seen through the fact that in a number of ways it’s very much a modern telling of A Christmas Carol. At the start of the film Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is still struggling from the fallout from Avengers Assemble – which isn’t compulsory viewing to fully understand this film, nor hugely the previous two Iron Man films either, although they are all rather good (well, maybe Iron Man 2 isn’t as good as the other two films, but still). Experiencing flashbacks and panic attacks from his visions back to the battle in New York just the year before. His behaviour is still very much centred around himself, despite seemingly trying to think more about others and being encouraged by his partner Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). However, his attachment to his collection of now over 40 Iron Man suits, of which he is constantly improving is slowly becoming unhealthy. Beginning to rely on it for basic tasks.
Over the course of the film, as Tony’s relationships with those around him grows, as he needs to rely on them to defeat the terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley – having great fun in the role, which for those who have seen the film will know of the great twist that lies within). One relationship in particular being that with a young boy (Ty Simpkins) that he meets and needs the help of after crashing in the middle of nowhere in a damaged condition, his trusted suit and computer assistant JARVIS (Paul Bettany) in a critical state. Tony’s character development, not to give too many spoilers for how things begin to go and the situations he finds himself in, is one rather similar to that of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Helping to give the plot of the film undertones of festivity.
However, while the more subtle Christmassy plot is highly present within the film there’s a lot more relating to the holiday. One key scene showing the modifications that Stark has been making to the Iron Man suit is set to Jingle Bells, instead of his standard AC/DC tracks. A number of rooms feature light use of Christmas decorations, and every now and then, in the hope of getting out of trouble; or rather to distract from something, Tony is seen to be gifting something excessive to Pepper. In fact the whole finale could very much be seen as some form of gift, especially with a number of decisions that the characters make and certain lines of dialogue that are said (evidently I’m trying to keep this as vague as possible, probably not doing a very good job of it, for those that haven’t seen the film yet).
The Christmas elements are all there and this may very well be Shane Black’s most Christmassy. Not just for the usual background references but for the plot as a whole. The Scrooge style sub-plot/ under-layer, the light humour often found in some Christmas films, the references to the season and people coming together during it, despite initial tensions. And, of course, making sure that good prevails and the period isn’t damaged by evil and spoiled for all. All through the guise of another enjoyable big-budget Marvel blockbuster. And, in my opinion at least, the best out of the three Iron Man films. It truly is the perfect film for Christmas Eve
Iron Man 3 can be watched in the following places: Now TV Amazon Sky Store Sky Go Google iTunes YouTube Or the film is available on DVD, Blu-ray and can likely be streamed, bought or rented on various other platforms and sites that you might have a membership on, or something like that – for example, for anyone outside of the UK and anywhere that doesn’t have it yet, Disney+.
The idea for the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar (there’s probably a much simpler title out there) is simple; a film each day in the build up to Christmas that isn’t your standard Christmas film. Not like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf or Die Hard (that’s an argument for another day, or year), but one that might be set at Christmas but the holiday isn’t a major factor in the story of the film, or it’s simply mentioned a couple of times and made reference to throughout.
It’s the week of Christmas! Panic and worry that not everything has been done is at a high, for some. However, there are others who can wait until tomorrow to do their last minute shopping and preparations. So, why not sit down, calm down and enjoy today’s offering from the alternative Christmas advent calendar? Behind today’s offering is the lesser seen alternative Christmas film The Shop Around The Corner.
When people think of classic black and white Christmas films the ones that commonly come to mind might include the likes of It’s A Wonderful Life, the original Miracle On 34th Street, The Bishop’s Wife, some versions of a Christmas Carol and even The Apartment. However, one that isn’t thought of as often is Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 feature The Shop Around The Corner. Alright, it might not exactly be a classic, or at least one that people remember or return to each year, especially at the festive season, but then again that’s one of the points of the alternative Christmas film advent calendar.
While roughly the first half of the film is set outside of the Christmas period the second half frequently makes point of the build-up to Christmas, with much of it taking place on Christmas Eve. Focusing on the busy chaos of a department store, trying to bring in as many customers as possible with their various offers and unique products, including cigarette boxes that play music every time you open them, being sold against the protest of lead salesman Alfred Kalik (James Stewart). It seems that nobody quite has a grip on what’s happening at the shop, especially with indecisive owner Mr Matuschek (Frank Morgan). And with Christmas coming up, and a feud with new employee Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan).
However, the thing that keeps Alfred going through his day is the letters that he sends to, and receives from, a mysterious woman who created an advert about wanting cultured conversations via letter. Neither person knows who the other is despite the connection between the pair growing stronger. The irony being that the woman that Alfred is writing to is his distanced colleague Klara. The theme of these letter communications went on to slightly inspire Nora Ephron’s 1999 rom-com (59 years after The Shop Around The Corner) You’ve Got Mail, some also claiming that there are slight inspirations in her other iconic rom-com Sleepless In Seattle. The idea of people coming together and forming their relationships over Christmas, against the background of frantic Christmas shopping connote strong themes of the festive season, and feel very much like a general Christmas film. However, the mentioning of Christmas mostly in the second half of the film, and not really having a large impact on the plot, aside from one or two smaller details to slightly heighten the theme towards the end of the film, makes it more of an alternative choice.
The mild rom-com ideas not quite being those would inspire the likes of more festive classics such as Love Actually but it helps to create a slightly more festive feel. The comedy throughout at the various, sometimes slightly exaggerated, characters also bringing in a lighter tone and while not quite bringing in a layer of charm it does introduce another level of amusement and enjoyment to be had from the piece as a whole. Everything coming together to create an enjoyable, fairly funny and mildly festive film. It has the elements and would be mostly the same without the references to Christmas, however because of the themes and references to the holiday it has that rather appreciated festive feel. Making it that little bit more enjoyable and definitely an alternative Christmas film.
The Shop Around The Corner can be watched in the following places: Amazon Google iTunes YouTube And, of course, on DVD and Blu-ray, and likely on other platforms where the option to stream, rent or buy films is available.