Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

Best Films of 2019

It is fitting in many ways, that as we reach the end of the decade, that a number of the franchises that have had a massive impact in the last ten years of cinema have been brought to a close. 22 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe gave a very satisfying pay off, the curtain closed on the Skywalker saga for the final time, and the less said about that Game of Thrones finale, the better. Meanwhile, Netflix continues to assert itself in the industry producing some stellar content, all while an exhaustive amount of discourses and debates on a variety of subjects relating to film have raged all year long. It was certainly an eventful year of cinema to close out the decade, and so the time has come for me to rank all that 2019 had to offer on the big screen, at least of the films I saw.

Due to staggered UK release dates, it can be extremely messy to determine what film belongs in what year. Therefore regarding the eligibility of films for this list, I always aim to include films that are listed as 2019 releases on IMDB. Also, some of the films listed here haven’t yet made their way into UK cinemas, but since I was fortunate to be able to catch some of these films at London Film Festival this year, they are eligible for inclusion. On the other hand, there’s a 2019 release that doesn’t get its UK wide release until February 2020, so that film will be deferred for my 2020’s list, and I am absolutely certain that will make an appearance.

Secondly, the grade a film receives does not necessarily determine its place on the list. Getting the perfect grade does not mean it will rank higher than a film that got a lower grade. This is, as is the case for all of us who review films, our one chance to be completely biased about the films that we enjoyed the most, and these are the films that I will remember from 2018.  Before I get into the main list, some honourable mentions need to have their time to shine. These films are excellent that you should definitely check out, but they just didn’t quite make the list. First up…

Ad Astra [review] Many films have illustrated just how terrifying the eternal chasm that is space, and Brad Pitt’s enthralling turn as an astronaut who must venture deep into space in search of his long lost father is another example. It’s a slow burner, but well worth the investment.

Harriet [review] Harriet Tubman’s story is nothing short of inspirational, a woman born into slavery who escaped and then daringly made several missions to free people from this appalling institution. This biopic, while told in a very conventional manner, tells her story with sincerity, and boasts a magnificent performance from Cynthia Erivo, whose career as an actor is going from strength to strength.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood [review coming soon] Tom Hanks is simply put, one of the most charismatic answers in the business, and so the decision to cast him as the legendary TV children’s presenter Fred Rogers was an utter masterstroke. As you’d expect Hanks’s performance is wonderful and Marielle Heller’s direction is so charming, that it’s guaranteed to give you a warm feeling by the time the credits have begun to roll.

Hustlers [review] For women who work in a strip club, it can be a difficult situation to find themselves in. For one group of women however, it’s a situation they choose take full advantage of, by devising a scheme to get back at the wealthy patrons of the strip club that employs them. With an excellent group of actresses at its core, and a fascinating story, the entire show is stolen by an electric, awards worthy performance from Jennifer Lopez.

Toy Story 4 [review] After Toy Story 3 wrapped up one of the best animated trilogies ever, in beautiful and heart-wrenching fashion, many were left wondering, was there any need for another Toy Story? Fears that this would prove to be a cynical cash grab were soon dismissed as Pixar, as they so often do, delivered the goods with a fourth film that absolutely needed to be told. It doesn’t quite match the lofty standards set its predecessors, but it comes mighty close.

Captain Marvel [review] It shouldn’t have taken as long as it did, but 2019 marked the first time that the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a female led film, and it was certainly worth the wait. While the story was certainly a tad formulaic, it was extremely entertaining and flew its way to a billion dollars at the Worldwide Box Office, firmly shutting up those individuals that tried to derail the film prior to its release.

Little Women [review] Making yet another adaptation of the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott seemed to be a tad unnecessary. However, in the wake of her stunning directorial debut. Greta Gerwig took this beloved novel and put her own take on it, and in so doing may have created the definitive big screen adaptation.

Honourable mentions have been honoured, time to crack on with the main list, which due to the vast number of great films we have had this year I’ve made it into a top 15 list, and we begin with…

15. Official Secrets

review

Working for the government can put any employee in a difficult position, especially when they handle such confidential information. For one employee, deciding that a confidential memo demands to become public information, she bravely takes on her government by leaking the aforementioned memo to the Press.

The intrigue is maintained throughout thanks to some excellent writing and a sensational lead performance from Keira Knightley who carries the film on her shoulders magnificently. There’s a very important message at the centre of this gripping film that remains very relevant to the world we live in today, namely that governments need to be held to account when they try to sweep such damning information under the rug.

14. Midsommar

review

After terrifying audiences with his debut feature Hereditary, Ari Aster has reinforced his growing reputation as a horror maestro with his sophomore feature. Telling the story of a woman goes with her boyfriend to a Swedish Pagan festival, and some dark and disturbing events soon start to unfold.

With a magnificent, haunting, awards worthy lead performance from Florence Pugh, that captures raw grief and pain in such a powerful manner. One of the best directed films of the year, filled with some thought provoking themes and imagery, with plenty of scenes that I will certainly not be forgetting in a hurry.

13. Ford V Ferrari

review

The mark of a great film, especially one about a sporting event, is that you shouldn’t have to be the most devout follower of said sport to be thoroughly invested in it. The 24 Hour Race of Le Mans isn’t the most glamorous, or indeed the most iconic of sporting events, but that didn’t prevent James Mangold from crafting an extremely compelling film about it.

With a truly excellent cast full of excellent performances, the best work comes from Matt Damon, and especially Christian Bale. Mixing in the back and forth between company head honchos and the absorbing, immaculately crafted racing scenes ensures that makes for extremely compelling storytelling, that helps this film hit race past the finishing line in flying colours.

12. Marriage Story

review

The day the two people tie the knot is so often the happiest day of those people’s lives, but sometimes, that loving relationship can be soured, causing people to go their separate ways. The pain of the divorce process is captured so powerfully by director Noah Baumbach, as two people go through a problematic and painful divorce that will push both both parents to the limits, whilst trying to do what’s best for their son.

With awards worthy performances from just about everyone, though without any doubt, the spotlight shines brightest on Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. The performances of these two are arguably the best performances of the year. To go from a funny moment, to a remorseful moment in a heartbeat is a skill, and it’s a testament to the strength of Baumbach’s screenplay that he combines these two contrasting emotions so strongly, without tainting the experience.

11. The Farewell

review

Family, an institution that can mean so much to so many of us. When such sorrowful news about a loved one’s declining health reaches our ears, it can be difficult news to take. Especially when, the traditions between generations and cultures can be such a stark contrast.

The film is such a surprise with how much humour it finds in this situation, but Lulu Wang expertly balances the delightful moments, with ones that are just raw with emotion. At the centre of all, Awkwafina gives the performance of her career as a woman who’s caught between two different customs and traditions. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you’ll connect with this film in some capacity.

Now for the top 10…

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Just Mercy (2019)

Image is property of Warner Bros

Just Mercy – Film Review

Cast: Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Morgan, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Rafe Spall

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Synopsis: After a man is convicted of murder of a young woman and sent to death row, a defence attorney begins to uncover some startling facts about the case….

Review: It’s not exactly news that in the USA right now, the country has had, and continues to have a major issue with racism. Such an issue, extends to many facets of life in the country, and one particular example being the the justice system and the rule of law. A system that has some very fundamental flaws and biases, that can see people arrested for the most trivial of things. Likewise one that can see potentially innocent people, be sent to prison in spite of some very iffy/suspicious witness statements or evidence.

Walter McMillian, known to his friends and family as Johnny D, is on death row after he was found guilty of murdering a young woman. When attorney Bryan Stevenson takes on his case, he starts to investigate the case in substantial detail. Through some extensive and thorough examination of all the evidence, with the support of Eva Ansley (Larson), all is not what it seems with this case. Stevenson, believing that McMillan may have been wrongfully convicted through some spurious evidence and witness statements, makes it his mission to leave no stone unturned in his investigation, and to do all he can to clear McMillan of this crime.

Courtroom dramas such as these have definitely been adapted for the big screen before. However, while it doesn’t strive away from your typical courtroom drama, the sheer strength and emotional weight of the story are what bring the emotional levity to the situation. This film’s power and urgency lies in Andrew Lanham’s and director Destin Daniel Cretton’s script, which is not trying to be anything new in terms of courtroom dramas, and it doesn’t have to be in order to be extremely effective. Simply because it is trying to shine a light on an issue that is still prevalent in the US to this day. With people are being sent down for crimes they definitely didn’t commit, whilst simultaneously highlighting and the appalling institutional biases that still occur to this day in the US justice system, particularly for people of colour, it shows a fundamental problem that urgently needs addressing.

Michael B Jordan is nothing short of sensational as Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who bravely takes on McMillan’s case. Given the emotional magnitude surrounding the case, he would be forgiven for cracking under the intense pressure that comes along with taking what is to many people, an already closed case. While Larson’s screen time is limited, she is also excellent as the assistant to Jordan’s Stevenson. However, it’s Jamie Foxx’s heartbreaking performance that is by far and away, the most awards worthy. Giving his best performance since Django Unchained, you can see from his body language that the years on death row understandably have taken their toll on him. Yet through Stevenson’s relentless desire to uncover the truth, it brings him the faintest glimmer of hope in the darkest of situations for him and his family.

One of the many great aspects of film is its ability to shed light on such stories that people around the world may not know about. However, these hard-hitting stories need to be mandatory viewing for everyone. The whole point of a justice system, in any country the world over, is to hold a fair and unbiased trial that examines all the evidence without prejudice. Yet time after time in the US, the system is shown to be completely rigged to the extent that people, especially people of colour, are seemingly condemned before any trial has even begun. Changes will not happen but overnight, but with powerful pieces of storytelling like Just Mercy, one would hope that the tide eventually start to turn to prevent situations like this from happening again.

With a trio of fantastic performances at its centre, and an emotionally charged story packed with an urgent, powerful message that must be heard the world over. This is so much more than just your typical courtroom drama.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Cats (2019)

Image is property of Universal, Working Title and Amblin Entertainment

Cats – Film Review

Cast: Francesca Hayward, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson

Director: Tom Hooper

Synopsis: A group of Cats known as the Jellicles come together to make a decision known as “the Jellicle choice,” a decision that will give one lucky cat an exciting new opportunity to start life anew….

Review: It was almost an event unto itself. Back in July this year, a trailer landed onto the internet, but this was no ordinary trailer, it was something much more horrifying, this being the trailer for Cats. Quickly becoming this overnight, much talked about sensation, but for all the wrong reasons. The collective claws of the internet came out and the film became the subject of much ridicule and being the butt (or should that be tail) of so many internet jokes, it seemed completely dead on arrival. It should come as no surprise to learn that it is a complete furry cat-astrophe.

The plot, if you can really call it that, is focused on a group of cats known as the Jellicle cats. An abandoned cat, Victoria (Hayward) is found by the group and they take her in. Every year, the leader of this group must make the Jellicle choice, a decision which will give one lucky cat the chance to start a new life. The big problem is this “plot” only comes into view about two thirds of the way through the film. For the first two thirds, a bunch of rather famous people take it in turns to sing a song. It almost feels screenwriter Lee Hall and writer/director Tom Hooper were playing with a proverbial ball of string before they realised they needed to have a plot, of some kind.

You’ll never look at your cat the same way ever again…

The only actor who can really take any sort of credit for their performance is that of newcomer Francesca Hayward, as she shows glimpses of her talent as a singer and a performer. Yet, in a cast filled to the brim with so much talent, you expect so much better considering the calibre of the likes of Judi Dench, Ian McKellen and Idris Elba. The most fundamental job for a musical is to have good music, and there are a couple of strong performances to be found. Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “Memory” is impactful and “Beautiful Ghosts” written by Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber certainly has some touching moments about it. The rest of the music is perfectly fine, but beyond those two songs, it is all just very generic and forgettable.

But what’s unfortunately not so forgettable, is the visuals, and more specifically the look of the actors in these bizarre concoctions of “cat-suits”. While certain elements such as the fur look at least somewhat plausible, overall they most assuredly don’t look completely look like cats, but nor are they human. It is the most peculiar hybrid that is guaranteed to invade your nightmares. The very fact that at times you can quite clearly see their human fingers, and other human like features is just comically inept and extremely distracting. Seemingly no effort whatsoever has been made to modify the appearances of the actors to make them even vaguely look feline. Their hands don’t look like paws, and their human noses are extremely noticeable. It’s just a gigantic mess.

Given that such high calibre films like The King’s Speech, and the 2012 version of Les Misérables on his CV, one would really expect better of Tom Hooper to try and make this musical adaptation translate to the big screen in a manner that is not inherently horrifying. Yet in spite of some visually splendid production design, this monstrosity proves that not everything translates to the big screen. This adaptation is one that should have stayed on the scratchpad of ideas, where it deserved to remain, eventually to be scratched into oblivion where it belongs. Someone should have paws-ed for thought before green-lighting this thing, but they didn’t, and this nightmare came to fruition, which isn’t good news for anyone.

Take away Francesca Hayward’s promising performance, along with a few good songs, and there’s really not that much to salvage from this monstrosity. A furry nightmare of hellish proportions.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Image is property of Lucasfilm and Disney

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Film Review

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams

Director: J.J Abrams

Synopsis: The First Order, under the leadership of Kylo Ren, seeks to consolidate its power following the deaths of Luke Skywalker and Leader Snoke. Meanwhile Rey leads the rest of the Resistance in a bid to restore peace in the Galaxy…

This review will be 100% spoiler free

Review: For over four decades, ever since a little film called Star Wars was unleashed on the world, it became this massive pop culture phenomenon, with an immeasurable, ever-lasting impact on the world of entertainment. Several times over the last few decades, we have seen this franchise take its supposed final bow. First came 1983, then in 2005, closing out the prequel trilogy after two lacklustre preceding films. Following Disney’s overtaking of the franchise, a new trilogy came into being. Four years since this trilogy blasted its way into existence, the time has come for it, and The Skywalker Saga, to take its proper final bow, in rather disappointing fashion.

Having lost instrumental figures following the events of The Last Jedi, both The Resistance and the First Order are seeking to take advantage of the power vacuum in the Galaxy and vanquish the other side once and for all. This galactic power struggle is thrown into further chaos when a mysterious entity, of a terrible foe long since thought to be dead, is threatening to unleash a new terror upon the Galaxy to ensure that the Dark Side will triumph once and for all.

It is not exactly news to anyone who has followed this franchise over the years that after The Force Awkakens chose to play things safe for the reintroduction to this franchise, The Last Jedi made some bold choices in a bid to try and take the franchise forward. In so doing, it caused an enormous divide among fans upon its release. Therefore having retaken the reins from Johnson, the onus was on JJ Abrams to steer this ship home, but it definitely hasn’t come home in one piece. The screenplay from Abrams and Chris Terrio feels very haphazardly put together, giving the impression that a slew of ideas were thrown at the wall and  meshed together, which produced decidedly mixed results. Having managed to craft a pretty airtight script for The Force Awakens, it’s extremely perplexing how the script this time around is full of what feels like unnecessary side quests, consequently feeling rather unfocused.

What’s worse is that some of the dialogue borders on prequel level of how cringe-inducing it is. To add further insult to injury, the directions that some of the characters go in are just completely baffling, and in some cases, are borderline insulting. In the wake of the backlash that was directed at TLJ, all the promising potential that TLJ offered is firmly discarded. All the intriguing plot points put forward are retconned in favour of a script that just for want of a better word, was nothing more than pandering to try and get the fans back onside following The Last Jedi. Favouring appeasement of the fans over bold and creative storytelling feels like an enormous cop-out, and could set a worrying precedent.

This isn’t to say that the whole thing is a complete waste of time, as Abrams brings his usual visual panache to the direction and the lightsabre battles that are present are exhilarating to watch, and for all of the story’s faults, there was potential there. Yet, for all that technical marvel, nothing shown here remotely represents an improvement on what came before it, and everything feels completely inconsequential. Therefore credit where credit’s due as all of the principal cast do excellent jobs reprising their roles, in spite of the less than stellar material they were given to work with, all. The leading lights are once again, Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren who by far and away are giving the best performances in the film.

It’s fantastic to see Billy Dee Williams reprise his role as Lando Calrissian but he is frustratingly given sparse to do, and same goes for the rest of the new crop of supporting characters, none of whom are remotely memorable in the slightest, apart from Richard E Grant’s brilliant turn as a First Order officer. Completing the arc of General Leia cannot have been easy considering Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing. However, through the use of archived footage, which surprisingly fits into the story fairly seamlessly, credit can be taken for giving this beloved character a satisfying concluding arc, one that is not a slap in the face to the fans.

No matter what you feel about the preceding two films in in this franchise, they represented the opportunity for the franchise to go in some bold new directions. Thus, to see that all ultimately get thrown away in favour of the direction they did go in is extremely disappointing. For a franchise that has meant so much to so many people throughout the decades, everything was in place for Abrams to wrap up this trilogy in triumphant fashion, but unfortunately, stick the landing, it does not.

While offering some exciting moments, the Skywalker saga ultimately wraps up with what is, comfortably, the weakest film in the trilogy. A disappointment not felt in the galaxy since the days of the Prequel trilogy.